If you doubt that I can actually provide 23 ways to use chicken leftovers, much less creative ways, I guess you’re new here. Welcome!
Today I want to talk a little bit about the many ways that we can use the bodies of the animals that we eat for meat. You may or may not know that I was once vegan and I didn’t eat meat at all for over 6 years. But one day I had to have a difficult conversation with my doctor and we decided that meat was back on my menu.
I’m really, really glad that I was vegetarian for 6 years, though, because my relationship with meat is a richer and more spiritual one, in some ways. Like, if I’m going to kill an animal so that I can eat it, I’m sure as heck going to make sure that none of it is going to go to waste, you know?
So here we are!
Over time, I’ve become better and better at using every single bit of an animal that’s possible once I purchase it with the intention of eating it. And I’m going to share a lot of that with you today!
So without further ado, here are 15 ways to use chicken leftovers!
Section one: using as much meat as possible
While it may seem trivial to try to use up every little scrap of meat, it really adds up over time and can help you save money on food and reduce how much good meat you’re disposing of! This section will discuss how to get as much meat as possible out of a chicken and how to make sure you eat it before it spoils.
1. Use all the tiny bits
The very first thing you want to do with the chicken is make sure that you’re actually getting as much meat as possible off of the bones. You can find small pieces of chicken all over the place, like:
- On the back of the chicken, you’ll find small pockets of meat all along the spine. Check from top to bottom: between the wings but also between the drumsticks/legs and everywhere in between. Much of this is beautiful, moist, flavourful, dark meat. It may look a little red/purple in spots but don’t worry; it’s just that there are more blood vessels there. It’ll be fully cooked and safe as long as you’ve cooked the rest of the chicken thoroughly.
- On the wing tips, though they’re small, you can pick little bits of meat off of the bones sometimes.
- Under the breast of the chicken, you’ll find that you usually can’t cut it all clean off the bone. Be sure that you get in there with your fingers and really clean all the meat off until you can feel the ribs. You’ll see a thin layer of semi-transparent tissue covering the ribs and that’s when you’ll know you’ve gotten everything.
- If your chicken has its giblets, you can cook the neck of the chicken and pull small bits of meat off the bones.
These small bits are less in-demand at the dinner table when they’re on their own, but they’re perfect for the recipes near the end of this post! Use them anywhere a recipe calls for chopped cooked chicken.
2. Store chicken leftovers to make cooking easier
Food waste can happen just because we forgot to put the leftovers away, so watch out for that!
I swear by storing chicken leftovers chopped up and ready for use. You’re probably going to need it chopped and this helps you save time when you’re prepping your meal. That way, you’ll look forward cooking with leftovers, rather than freezing your fingers off while cutting up chilled or frozen chicken!
Most households have a pretty standard slate of recipes they make. If you’re new to recipes that use cooked chicken, maybe this article will give you some ideas! In any case, try to separate the chicken into recipe-appropriate portions when you’re putting it in the fridge or freezer. So if your favourite to use leftover chicken takes 2 cups, chop up 2 cups of the chicken and put it into a bin for storage. Easy peasy!
Once refrigerated, try to use the chicken up in the next 3 days, so that it’s still fresh and safe to eat. If frozen, chicken leftovers will keep well for about 3 months.
Section two: using leftover chicken trimmings
There are tons of parts of the chicken that people consider garbage. I just consider these more chicken leftovers to use! Hardly any of the chicken is actually useless. Here are a bunch of things you can do with the “waste” of the chicken!
3. Use the leftover chicken bones, skin and gristle
In our house, because I’m such an anti-waste weirdo, we usually serve meat cut off the bones so that I can save the bones. If the person doesn’t like to eat chicken skin, I steal that, too. Why?
Chicken stock is great with skin, tough bits like gristle, and (of course) bones! Save the carcass of the chicken (including as many bones in the wings, legs and breast as you can). Place bones, skin and any other unpalatable bits (little tail piece, I’m looking at you!) in a pot. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can add some veggie scraps. Cover it with water and let it simmer at least a couple of hours on a low heat to draw out all of that amazing flavour! Then use the stock as you would usually use store-bought chicken broth.
I usually chill mine before using so that I can separate out the top fat layer. (Which I don’t throw out, by the way. More on that in a minute!)
And if you don’t have time to make your stock right away, seal up the bones, etc. in a bin or bag and throw it into the freezer. If you save up a few chickens’ worth of bones, you can make a big pot of broth (which you can also freeze for future use)! We use these like they’re going out of style, for example, because they’re exactly a litre and the perfect way to store frozen liquids!
4. Take advantage of pan drippings
If you roast your chicken in the oven or cook it in a crock pot (slow cooker), you will have drippings in the pan when you’re done. Don’t throw these out! They are so flavourful and useful in the kitchen!
These drippings basically make a nice, concentrated broth. That broth can be used like any other broth: in soups, for gravy and more. If you chill the pan drippings, you’ll also see that a layer of fat forms on top and is easy to separate. This is useful in lots of ways, too, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
Section three: how to use chicken fat
Did your mother have a fat can? Mine sure did. It lived in the fridge, looking really sad. It still had tiny bits of meat in it, getting all crusty and nasty. And then when it got full, she’d throw it out. But what if we re-thought that fat can and actually used that fat?
We all buy things like margarine, butter and vegetable oil for cooking and baking with. But we have a totally free and flavourful source of fat when we’re dealing with meat and so often we put it in the garbage!
Chicken fat can be used for many different things (almost anything you use oil or fat for in your day-to-day life). If you didn’t flavour your chicken fat with savoury tastes like onions and herbs, you could even use your chicken fat in sweet recipes. Chicken fat alone has a pretty neutral flavour profile, and while I’ve almost never got neutral-enough chicken fat to use this way, it’s not off limits for me.
Here’s are some ways to use chicken fat.
5. Learn how to render chicken fat
You can get fat from a few different sources on the chicken. Like I mentioned above, if you chill the pan drippings (or chicken stock), you’ll get a layer of fat that you can separate from the broth or juices.
If you’re separating the chicken (as in, not cooking it whole), you’ll probably have small bits of fat on the raw meat. This can be saved and thrown into a broth (to get the fat off the top after chilling) or you can do what’s called rendering. Rendering fat is much less fancy than it sounds: you basically just have to melt it in this case. The fastest way—and also the most terrifying way—is to put it in the microwave and hold your breath while it spits and sputters all over the place. (Can you tell I learned the hard way that this is a terrible idea? I think I’m still cleaning bits of chicken fat out of my microwave, but I digress…) Please learn from my foolishness and don’t do that.
It takes more time, but I’ve found that either slow baking or gently frying the fat on the stovetop are the most effective. You’ll absolutely want a lid on your pan in either case! When you’re done, you’ll have a clear, liquid fat and shrivelled up bits that are actually very tasty additions to chicken stock, by the way! I strain them out of the broth and then I finally consider them garbage and compost them.
And if the whole idea of using chicken fat makes you squirm for health reasons, check out why we shouldn’t be afraid of fat (yes, even the “bad” ones).
6. Use leftover chicken fat to sauté foods
We often use butter or oil to sauté our foods, but chicken fat is just as good for this purpose. It’s got a lovely flavour, especially when you’re frying up vegetables for a soup or stew! It adds a nice, savoury flavour to the broth or sauce. Simply melt it into the pan like you would melt butter.
7. Oil your (savoury) baking pans
When you bake savoury recipes, try using chicken fat to lightly grease the baking pan! If you usually use butter or cooking spray, it’s a good substitute and gives a little extra flavour, too. This is especially good for savoury breads, casseroles and pasta.
8. Make grilled cheese
You know how you butter your bread to get that nice, crispy crust on your grilled cheese? What if you used chicken fat? The fat mostly dissolves, but it leaves behind a nice, slightly meaty flavour that is really nice with milder cheeses like mozzarella and gouda. With a strong cheddar, you don’t really even taste it, so there’s no harm making use of this fat that would otherwise go to waste!
9. Replace your butter garnish
In dishes where a pad of butter is often served on top, try a pad of chicken fat instead. It gives a nice umami flavour to the dish and melts nicely on warm dishes, too!
10. Roast your veggies
When roasting vegetables or potatoes, you often toss them with a bit of olive oil and seasoning. Why not toss with spices and a little melted chicken fat before roasting instead?
11. Mix leftover chicken fat into dry meat dishes
Mix chicken fat into homemade sausage or other meat dishes that need added fat (like pâté). If you’ve ever tried to make these dishes with just lean meats, you know that they don’t turn out very well! Try using chicken fat instead of other oils to improve their flavour.
12. Replace vegetable oil
Use melted chicken fat in place of cooking oil in savoury recipes like English-style stew dumplings, Southern-style biscuits or savoury corn bread.
13. Use chicken leftovers to keep clean!
Well-strained chicken fat can be used to make homemade soap! If you’re a little more crafty (or maybe soap-making is exactly your thing), you can use your chicken fat this way, and it will keep for a long time in this form!
Section three: using leftover chicken giblets (organs)
Not all chickens come with giblets, but most turkeys do. (Please do apply this guide to any poultry, because it’s largely the same.)
If you were blessed with giblets (organs) in your bird, there are tons of things you can do with them! Here are just a few ideas.
14. Use chicken giblets for stocks
Much like the chicken skin, fat and gristle, the organs are very flavourful in a broth. You can throw them into a pan with other bones and such if you have them, and make chicken stock just as you normally would.
Alternatively, save up giblets in the freezer until you’ve got a couple of pounds and make a broth with just giblets. I like to add a bay leaf to mine for extra flavour. Around holidays where I make a turkey, I use giblet broth as a base for gravy, along with the pan drippings. It’s delightful!
15. Eating chicken giblets as a protein
Organ meat (including chicken organs) is extremely high in protein and iron. Your body will probably really appreciate a little organ meat! But if your tastebuds are getting in the way, it’ll help to put the meat into something. If there’s a recipe you usually put beef into, such as a beef stew or pot pie, often you can add a small amount of chopped giblets along with the beef and it’s not too hard to “hide” it. In the UK, they’ve eaten steak and kidney pie for generations upon generations and it remains a common dish in pubs today.
16. Make chicken giblet pâté
Did you know that the main ingredient in many pâtés is liver? It’s an easy way to hide the leanness of the organ meat, because it has added fat. This is a great way to use both your chicken fat and your organ meat. Try eating your pâté on some nice, whole grain crackers, or as a spread on a sandwich. You would get all of the same nutrients out of the giblets, even though pâté has lots of nice flavours added in, so it’s a win-win!
17. Give fluffy a treat
If you really don’t like the taste of organ meats, even in a stew or pâté, I’m pretty sure I know who will like them. That’s right, your dog will love those giblets and your cat probably will, too! Rather than wasting them, give them a little treat over the next few days and save a bit on canned or dry pet food. But remember: onions are toxic to pets, so if you’ve already boiled the giblets with onions (or onion scraps) to make a broth, they’re not safe for your furry friend anymore!
Section four: how to use leftover chicken meat
I thought I’d leave the easiest section for last! There are so many ways to use cooked chicken, and lots of them allow us to stretch the meat even further. If you’re cooking for a large family, it helps to be able to fill up tummies without as much solid protein! So I’m not going to state the obvious option of just eating a chunk of chicken on your plate. Let’s keep it a bit more creative!
18. Hot chicken sandwiches
If you haven’t had one of these, you’re seriously missing out! They’re a wonderful way to spruce up your chicken leftovers and you can even add a veggie into the mix. Here’s how you do it:
- Put down a piece of bread (toasted or not—this is up to personal preference).
- Put some chicken meat on top of the bread.
- If you like, add some cooked veggies on top (my favourites are green peas, carrots and/or corn, and frozen works just fine).
- Douse the whole thing in hot gravy!
You don’t even really need to warm it before the gravy step because the gravy will warm it for you! This is a very satisfying meal and gets your protein, veggies and starch into your belly. It’s especially useful when you have lots of cooked chicken (or turkey) meat but not as many of the fixings left over.
19. Warm or cold sandwiches with leftover chicken
One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had was a chicken sandwich with cranberry sauce and melted cheese. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!
You don’t need a panini press to make this delicious! You can serve the sandwich hot or cold, but the key is to use something a bit rich and saucy (like melted cheese or mayonnaise) to avoid dryness. When using cheese, I’ve sometimes done it in a grilled cheese style to get it nice and melted, so try different things to see what you like! A microwave could work, too, if you’re using soft bread, or broiling in the oven for open-faced sandwiches would be divine!
20. Chicken quiche or omelettes
This is one of my best low-cost meal suggestions for leftover, cooked chicken! Since an omelette is basically just a naked quiche, go for that option if you can’t be bothered to buy or make a pie shell! Sprinkling a bit of chopped chicken into your omelette during cooking (again, with some veggies, ideally!) will help to fill you up and get a little extra protein and iron in your diet.
And if you’re feeling fancy, indulge in a quiche with a little cheese added. (Goat cheese is my favourite with chicken, but most cheeses are very good!)
21. (Chicken) leftovers casserole
This is a really great way to serve a balanced, low-cost meal with leftover chicken, pork or any other plain meat! Here’s how you make it:
- Place about 2 cups chopped meat (cooked) in the bottom of a large casserole dish.
- Add at least as many vegetables like chopped celery, mushrooms (canned is fine!), carrots, onions, green beans or corn, whatever you’ve got. Frozen works well here, too!
- If you don’t have fresh celery, try using a sprinkle of celery seed—it really makes this dish yummy!
- If you have chow mein noodles (available at asian supermarkets and some groceries), they’re a super yummy addition! So is broken up ramen or egg noodles!
- Put a can of cream soup over everything (any kind is fine: chicken, mushroom, celery, etc.).
- Put a can of milk into the casserole and mix everything around.
- Cover the casserole and bake it for about 45 minutes at 350°F. It’ll be nice and bubbly, some of the liquid will be absorbed and the veggies will be cooked.
- Boil up some rice to serve it over and you’re done!
This casserole can serve 4-6 people with as little as a single chicken breast! I got this recipe from my mother and I’ve made it so many times when money was tight or we hadn’t been able to make it to the grocery in a while, because besides the leftover chicken, everything you need is in your pantry or freezer!
22. Chicken quesadilla or taquitos
This is another great way to stretch the meat! We let our tortillas decide which we make: large tortillas mean quesadilla, while small ones mean taquitos. Whichever ones are on sale usually win!
You don’t need to fill each quesadilla or taquito chock full of meat, and it’s good to throw some veggies like onions and peppers in there, too. This helps to round it out and stretch the meat further—because meat is often the most expensive part of a meal!
23. Chicken soup
No list like this would be complete without chicken soup! This is one of my favourite things to make with chicken leftovers because you can use so many parts that would otherwise be discarded!
How I do it:
- Make a chicken stock out of the bones, skin, etc. If I have giblets, I include those also.
- Reserve the fat from the chicken broth and drippings.
- Melt a tablespoon or two of the chicken fat in a pan to sauté some onion, celery, carrot, mushrooms, garlic or any combination of the above.
- Add the juices from the pan drippings and about a litre of chicken broth to the pan.
- Stir in about 1/2 cup rice or dry pasta for an even heartier meal!
- Add some herbs, if you like: sage, rosemary, thyme and tarragon all go really well here, but not too much is needed or it overpowers the lovely chicken flavour!
- Simmer the broth for about 15-30 minutes, until the vegetables and rice or pasta are nice and tender.
- Taste for salt and add salt if needed. Put a couple of pinches of pepper if you like!
- Add some chopped chicken and cook for just about 5 minutes longer, to warm the chicken.
- Serve nice and hot with bread.
This makes such a nice, warm, comforting meal in the winter! I highly recommend homemade chicken soup if you’ve recently roasted or slow-cooked a chicken!
How do you stretch a chicken a bit further? Share your tips in the comments so we can all learn!