The economy is in shambles. Prices of everything are going up. K-Mart has brought back layaway plans. KFC is advertising that you can’t make their seven-piece “meal deal” at home for as cheap as you can get it at their place. I beg to differ. As I recently told my children as they headed off to college, in these challenging economic times, it is prudent to fall back upon the wisdom of our elders.
A long time ago when I was a young man, I did an internship in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As any of you who have done any sort of internship know too well, there is not a lot of money in the internship game, least of all in the theater—my chosen profession of the moment. My wonderful mother, sensing that her baby boy might be starving in the desert, sent a few pages of sage advice on how to get by on practically nothing at all. She called it “Good Old Mom’s Handy Survival Tips: Three Days on One Chicken and Other Depression Folklore,” and she said if I were not completely satisfied, I may make them into paper airplanes. It became a family treasure.
Here, in condensed form and with my own comments thrown in, is what she taught me then.
Foods that are traditionally cheap, she said, were rice, potatoes, canned tomatoes, canned beans and pasta. Of the rice, she said to buy the biggest bag that looks clean and never buy anything in a box. Potatoes should be purchased 10 pounds at a time. She said, “Idahoes are best for baking and reds are best for salad, but this is no time to be picky. Smell the bag before you buy it. The odor of a rotten potato is not subtle.”
Mom thought it best to buy the smallest eggs; that the size difference does not justify the price disparity. I would certainly add that it is far better to get your eggs from a local farmer. The price is about the same and the eggs are much fresher and better tasting.
She went on to say that one should use coupons where possible, but only for things you were going to buy anyway. Additionally, it is important to realize that “quiche was not invented as a test of masculinity. It was invented to get rid of leftovers.”
As for the three days on one chicken thing, I’ll give it to you word-for-word, with my comments added parenthetically.
Buy one whole frying chicken (preferably organic, from a local farmer) for every two servings desired, and do it when you have a couple of hours free. It is not necessary to start with a live chicken. Remove legs at the hip and refrigerate or freeze. Filet the breasts and refrigerate or freeze. Bang on the carcass(es) enough to make them fit in the biggest pot you have. Add a couple of onions, a stalk of celery and (fresh!) parsley. Add water to cover, and a little salt. Simmer, DO NOT BOIL, for 1 hour, skimming occasionally. Remove the bones from the soup and cool a few minutes. Remove usable meat, return the bones to the soup and refrigerate the meat. Simmer the bones for another hour, then strain the broth and throw away the junk. Taste the broth for salt, season appropriately and refrigerate at once.
One Day: Barbecue or fry the legs and thighs. Serve with Spanish rice and baked beans or coleslaw.
Another Day: Use filets for chicken Parmesan, Jennifer’s Chicken, chicken nuggets, curry, and on and on. See Dinah Shore for details (that dates me, doesn’t it?).
Yet another day: Use chicken bits and broth for chicken pie, chicken a la king, chicken ‘n’ biscuits, etc.
But before you use the broth: skim the fat carefully from the chilled broth and mix the fat with an equal amount of flour to use for thickening the gravy.
And yes, before you ask, there is a recipe.
This family favorite is very simple and very flavorful. It’s been on my training table since I was a kid.
Dip the chicken filets in beaten egg, then in a mixture of breadcrumbs (your own, not the store-bought sawdust), parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano——accept no substitutes) and (fresh!) parsley. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit on an ungreased pan for 20 minutes. Before serving, drizzle a mixture of melted butter and lemon juice over the filets.
Three days. One chicken.