Cheap Eats: My Cozy Baked Chicken and Rice - No. 131
Plus Between the Layers readers’ BIG IDEAS on how to save money on food & a paid subscription special from me!
COOKING ON THE CHEAP IS A TOPIC I’ve covered a lot during my newspaper and book career, and to be honest, I was drawn to it early on because reporters like myself weren’t the highest paid folks on the block. I planned out meals, packed lunch, rode the bus to work as much as possible, and when I gathered with friends on weekends, it was potluck! Through life those habits became second nature.
And as I slow-simmered red beans and rice and roasted my own chicken and supped on egg salad sandwiches with a fat slice of ripe tomato I learned that you don’t suffer one little bit cooking on a budget. In fact, you eat really well. It’s not how much you spend on groceries that matters. It’s how you cook them.
As I traveled outside the country, the simplest food in France—the lovingly prepared fried egg on top of a green salad with lardons (bacon)—was to me more delicious than foie gras. In Italy, pasta a fagioli (white beans, pasta, and good local olive oil) was my preference over veal. In an English pub in the countryside, I eyed what the locals were having, a simple ploughman’s lunch. And in Japan, I craved street food—hot noodles and broth.
So, I don’t panic when food costs soar. I just soak a pot of beans and pull out my simple recipe for chicken and rice.
Between the Layers readers’ BIG IDEAS on saving $$$
Thank you everyone who responded to last week’s survey. Three-quarters of you say saving money on food is a priority right now. And even those who said saving wasn’t priority one chimed in on how much they love to snag a good BOGO (buy one, get one, fyi.) They love the hunt!
A third of you shop at discount and warehouse stores, and buy in bulk and freeze, and grow your own food, and clip coupons, and eat less meat to save money. All of those things.
One reader who belongs to a vegetable co-op, vacuum-seals veggies for meals throughout the week. Others don’t even plan meals until they see what’s on sale at the store. You scan the aisles for discounts and mark-downs. A few of you buy sale items in bulk and split them with family members.
In fact, your suggestions can be lumped into what I am calling the 4 BIG IDEAS of saving money on food:
Reduce waste. Plain and simple, you just don’t throw it away. You use bits and bobs of leftovers in recipes, you break produce down when you get home so it doesn’t go into that coffin of a produce drawer only to die a slow, wilting death, she says sounding like some horror movie. And you freeze foods for later and label them so you know what’s what.
Reduce meat and increase veggies. When I asked what you splurged on, the majority of you said organic meat or steaks. And yet you admitted to reducing the amount of meat you eat to save money. One reader who feeds teenagers suggested slicing the meat on the platter. ‘’If I don’t pre slice, everyone takes a whole piece instead, and we run out. A more expensive protein, like steak, gets sliced as thin as I can get it.’’ (I too, remember my grandmother could slice meat more thinly than anyone.)
Plan ahead. You are less likely to dine out, waste less because you use what you have, and reuse leftovers if you have a meal plan for the week. One reader suggested cooking a pork loin sprinkled with onion soup mix in the slow cooker for meal one, and then use leftovers in burritos or on top of salads and nachos. (I’ve done something similar with pork tenderloins when they go on sale. I season them with cumin and pepper, and then dump a jar of salsa on top before slow cooking.)
Plan but stay flexible. One reader suggested a main dish stuffed baked potato with broccoli and cheese or homemade chili from the freezer as you rethink dinner. Others use store brand ingredients instead of the old faithful brands if they’re cheaper.
I loved reading everyone’s stories and how their relationship with cooking and saving money in the kitchen was due to what their parents instilled or a first low-paying job or just being a part of a large family. One reader grew up on pinto beans and cornbread. Another had a mom who knew how to season food so well you didn’t notice there were more vegetables than meat on the plate. And a grateful reader shared with some humility, ‘’Married the right women, she leads the way.’’
JULY CHEAP EATS SPECIAL for BETWEEN THE LAYERS: Because of high food prices, I’m offering a summer discount on paid subscriptions. You receive a year of two weekly emails and Open Threads and all recipes from me for just $40. If you’ve thought about going paid, you can save this week. Deadline is Monday, July 18.
Now, my turn. A few strategies…
Make the freezer your friend. I love my big chest freezer in the basement. And I don’t think I’m alone. My friend Melissa texted a group of friends announcing her first grandchild, Ruth, was to be born soon. Her daughter had gone into labor. And so what was she doing? Cooking and stocking the freezer with meat sauce for pasta! My husband and sister both stash homemade Chicken Pot Pie in the freezer. They batch-make a half dozen of them at a time. I’ll freeze leftover spaghetti sauce, a quart of soup, the chicken or turkey carcass, and don’t get me started on that time the turkey carcass was tossed after Thanksgiving and I didn’t get to make soup out of it…Sulked for days. When you’ve got meals in the freezer, my friends, that is money in the bank.
Embrace beans and all their beautiful variety of flavors and colors. Above is my favorite way to cook white beans, which we eat all through winter and into the summer, mostly Great Northern beans, but I love navy bean soup, too. Did you know you can spoon these brothy white beans in a shallow bowl in the summertime and add tomato and pesto on top, or some pasta or spinach, whatever you’ve got. And to the reader who suggested Ali Slagle’s Cheesy Beans as printed in the New York Times, thank you! (Paywall warning on that recipe, fyi.) I can’t wait to give it a try.
Embrace pasta, too, especially in the summertime. Nothing is cheaper than pasta tossed with ripe tomatoes, made even better with fresh mozzarella. We call it Kren’s Pasta. Or top with a simple saute of garden zucchini.
And eggs. They have shot up in price but two eggs still cost less than 50 cents. I could eat an omelet for dinner once a week. Just clean out the fridge and tuck remnants of cheese and veggies inside.
Stop and read the unit cost labels on the supermarket shelf to compare prices per ounce. And I use the scale in the produce department to see if it’s cheaper to buy fruit individually or pre-packaged.
Think of saving money on food as just being smart. Like a skill you can develop and get better at over time. Plus, keep up with local news and ask your local officials to do something to help all families at the supermarket. For example, Tennessee is sitting on more than a $3 billion tax surplus, according to the Sycamore Institute, and is thankfully pausing sales tax on food in August. Arkansas has gone one step better and lowered the tax rate on food. Most of the U.S. states do not include groceries in sales tax, but 13 still do. What is your state doing?
Anne Byrn: Between the Layers is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a subscriber.
So with all this saving, what will you splurge on?
In the survey you answered steaks and organic meat, and also salmon, ice cream, and avocado. There were votes for good cheese and chocolate, nice olive oil, Kerrygold butter, coffee, and organic strawberries.
Like I said before, Between the Layers readers have good taste!
What did I miss? Do you have a Cheap Eats suggestion?
Coming on Thursday for My Paid Subscribers
Homemade Granola! Making a sheet pan of granola feels empowering and perfect for summer breakfasts. I just love to clean out the pantry of dried fruits and add them to the mix.
If you’re not a paid subscriber, take advantage of this week’s special offer and join us!
And now that chicken recipe, which will absolutely perfume your kitchen. Turn any leftovers into soup. Have a great week!
- xo, Anne
My Baked Chicken and Rice
This was the chicken and rice I cooked for our children nearly every week. I didn’t use a recipe but somewhere along the line, someone asked me for the recipe, and I wrote it down. You can use a whole chicken and cut it up, or you can use pre-cut chicken pieces. Buy the best chicken you can afford, and always rinse it when you get it home from the store. I find that chickens aren’t cleaned as well as they used to be, and without going into any unsavory details, let’s just say rinse it inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. And this is really a blueprint. You can add mushrooms or carrots, any veg you like. Add some zucchini at the end if they are coming into your garden. Add a splash of sherry if it’s close at hand. Make my chicken and rice your chicken and rice.
Prep: 10 minutes
Soak: 30 minutes
Bake: 2 hours
1 3- to 4-pound whole organic chicken, rinsed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion
2 bay leaves
½ cup water or white wine
3/4 cup long-grain white rice, such as Basmati
1 cup water
Chopped Italian parsley, for garnish
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. With poultry shears cut the backbone out of the chicken and discard. Trim off the thigh and leg portions, keeping the thigh and leg in one piece. Keep the double breast with ribs and wings in one piece. Pat chicken dry with paper towels.
3. Place 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin-side down. Let sear until they are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes, then with tongs turn to the other sides, and brown them all over. You may need to reduce the heat to medium if the pan gets too hot. Turn off the heat and season the seared chicken with salt and pepper. Discard extra grease in the pan.
4. Meanwhile, peel the onion and cut into quarters. Tuck the onion around the chicken. Add the bay leaves. Add ½ cup water or white wine to the pan, and place the lid on the pan. Place the pan in the oven to cook until the chicken is very tender, 1½ hours.
5. Remove the pan from the oven, and leave the oven on. Remove the pan lid, and sprinkle the raw rice around the chicken. Pour the water over the rice, and stir with a fork to moisten the rice with pan juices. Place the lid back on the pan. Return the pan to the oven so the rice can cook, 20 minutes more.
6. To serve, carefully remove the chicken to a platter to keep warm. Spoon the rice alongside, and scatter chopped parsley over the top.