One Chicken, Three Meals: Braised Chicken Over Polenta, Chicken Cabbage Salad, and Tomato Pasta with Chicken Jus

If I teach you anything, anything at all, during our time together let it be how to turn one meal into three. Case in point: this chicken dinner I made on Wednesday night, which turned into Thursday’s lunch, and then turned into Thursday night’s pasta. How did I get all of that out of one little bird? Allow me to astound you!

First, let’s talk about braising. It sounds like a fancy word but it really just means cooking something in a liquid until it becomes very tender. It works best with tough cuts of meat (if you love Osso Bucco or short ribs, you love braised food) but also works with chicken, as long as you take the breasts out before they get too dry and leave the dark meat to finish a little longer.

The fun thing about braising is you get to play around with your aromatics (garlic, ginger, onions) and your braising liquid (white wine, red wine, apple cider, vinegar, you name it). For this particular braise, I cut a whole chicken into parts (that’s a lesson for another time), seasoned them well with salt and pepper, seared them in olive oil and a little butter until they were golden brown on all sides, removed the pieces to a plate, and then added onions and garlic to the brown bits in the pan. I cooked those together for a bit, then added white wine to help scrape those brown bits up: that’s where all the flavor is. And then I added about three chopped heirloom tomatoes.

I let that cook together, with a pinch of salt, until the tomatoes started to release their liquid…

…then I added all of the chicken back in (it was a Noah’s Ark kind of situation in there, not very photogenic), keeping the breasts on top so I could take them out first. I cooked at a low simmer, lid-on, for about 25 minutes, checking after 20, until the breast was 160-ish. I removed the breasts, then let the dark meat go until it was fork tender (another 10 – 15 minutes). Meanwhile, I cooked slow-cooking polenta in a pot with water and salt for 45 minutes or so and then added lots of butter and Parm at the end.

I ladled the polenta on to plates, topped with the dark meat, and some of the braising liquid, but saved the white meat (the breasts) and the rest of the liquid (of which there was a lot) for the next two meals.

So let’s look at the next meal: chicken cabbage salad!

I know I told you I wasn’t going to talk about my coleslaw, of which this is a close cousin, but I will tell you about this salad. I basically shredded green cabbage, tossed it with arugula, sliced red onions, toasted pistachios, golden raisins, heirloom cherry tomatoes, the cubed chicken breast, and then a mixture of mayo, grainy Dijon, white balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper. A dynamite lunch salad packed with protein from the previous night’s dinner. I just think it needs a better name than “chicken cabbage salad.”

Finally, and perhaps best of all, that chicken braising liquid solidified in the refrigerator from all of the butter, olive oil, and schmaltz that came out of the chicken. It was basically a container filled with chickeny, tomatoey, garlicky gold. So on Thursday night, I started a basic tomato sauce — onions, garlic, and red chili flakes — in olive oil, then a can of cherry tomatoes in with some salt. And then I added the liquid gold container.

I let that all cook together until it was a thick, homogenous sauce and OH MAMA was that tasty. Meanwhile, I cooked fusilli in lots of salted water and then lifted, while it was still al dente, into the pan with the sauce, cooking everything together until the pasta absorbed the sauce and there wasn’t any liquid at the bottom of the pan.

Parmesan and parsley to gild the lily, and there was a dreamy pasta dinner using liquid that some unknowing innocent might’ve just dumped down the sink.

So there you are: three enticing meals from one little chicken. Who knew a little bird could do so much good in the world?

Related Posts:

One Bag of Beans, Three Meals (Amateur Gourmet)

One Chicken, Two Dinners + Stock (Amateur Gourmet)

How To Turn One Chicken into a Week of Meals (Food52)

Make 17 Meals from One Chicken (Lifehacker)