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Product Talk: The whole chicken

Back in the day, any cook worth her (or his) salt knew how to handle a whole chicken. Whether you roasted it, stewed it, or cut it apart for frying, that’s just how chickens came at the market.

Today, however, many people seem to be intimidated by a whole chicken –even though it is a much more economical choice. It’s just too easy to pick up a package of skinless breasts, or thigh quarters, rather than wrestle with a full chicken, bones, skin, and all.

But if you know how to cook a real chicken, you’ll save money , as they can cost less than half what you might pay for specialized packages of prepared, boned or skinless chicken. And, you’ll find the flavor is often richer and deeper, since you’re getting flavor from all the fat, skin and bones.

If you don’t want to mess with cutting up a chicken, there are three easy ways to cook the bird whole, with almost no mess and fuss. Note: Always remove any “innards” such as neck or giblets, from inside the chicken cavity, before cooking.

Crockpot: This is stupid-simple, and produces a really moist dish.  Roughly chop a couple of onions and carrots and place in the crockpot, then add a three-to-four-pound chicken, seasoned with salt, pepper and any herbs or spices you like. You don’t need liquid. Cook for four-five hours, and the chicken will be falling-off-the-bone tender. Bonus: If you pick the meat off the bones before serving, you can make chicken stock from the carcass. Just add more carrots, chopped celery, and maybe some thyme, and enough water to reach the top of the crockpot. Cook on low 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.

Stew: Almost as easy as the crockpot. Use the same carrot-onion-herb combo as in a crockpot chicken; you may also want to add some celery. Place everything in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook on low up to about 90 minutes. Again, it’s done when the meat is tender and pulls away easily from the bone. Tip: For a richer flavor, replace some of the water with chicken broth.

Roast: Baking a chicken can be the trickiest way to go, because it’s easy to overcook it and end up with a dry bird. I recommend the use of a meat thermometer. This country-style roasted chicken, reminiscent of an old-fashioned Sunday dinner, is a good recipe to start with:

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