Costco sells about 60 million rotisserie chickens annually.
Spring has sprung. May marks the climate transition from warm to hot — along with everything in between. It’s the beginning of the season for night baseball, picnics, beaches, hiking, biking, and casual eating. With activities a plenty, there’s no shame in opting for convenience when mealtimes roll around. And there’s a simple hack that can produce multiple meals at a bargain price.
Enter the rotisserie chicken: The modern iteration combines mass marketing with production line techniques. But the history dates back eons. Early vertical rotisseries took the form of fish, fowl, or game suspended on strings in front of the open hearth, with a drip pan beneath. Twirling the food put twists in the string, causing it to rotate clockwise, then counterclockwise as the string unwound.
Cooking foods on a metal rod or spit became popular centuries ago. Horizontal rotisseries have the advantage of allowing meats to self-baste while roasting. DIY home-appliance rotisseries always include cleanup issues and lack the efficiencies and economies of scale enjoyed by the supermarkets and big-box stores.
The 600-pound chicken on the spit: On Feb. 24, 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle teased “Best of the Roast” atop the front page, above the nameplate. The story referred to a review of Bay Area rotisserie chicken purveyors. The walk-off winner was the Costco birds, declared the tastiest, largest, and cheapest. Now more than 15 years later, nothing has changed, including the price — $4.99.
According to NPR, Costco sells about 60 million rotisserie chickens annually. Showing its commitment to the bird-on-a-spit, Costco is building a chicken processing plant in Fremont, Neb. Costco will contract with about 100 new chicken farms in Nebraska and Iowa to raise the birds. At full capacity, the plant will process more than 2 million chickens per week. Some will become rotisserie chickens; others will be sold as parts, yet supplying only about 40 percent of Costco’s needs.
Getting the most from the bird: Depending on household size, there should be multiple meals from a rotisserie chicken. Part of gleaning maximum servings depends on knowing what and when to throw away. Important point: Upon arriving home with the roasted bird, avoid the urge to open the container, remove the carcass, and then toss everything else in the trash.
After opening the container, place the dome-shaped lid top-down on the countertop, then transfer the bird from the base to the lid. Next, pour the cooking juices into a measuring cup.
Then cut the bird in half with shears or a chef’s knife. Remove the backbone, and set aside. Return both halves to the dome lid. Then fill the base cavity with hot water, and rest a few moments. Finally pour that liquid into the measuring cup to make almost two cups. Set aside to later become gravy.
Now carefully bone the halves, placing the meat in the domed lid. A portion of — or all of — the meat may be served now, or sealed in the container and refrigerated for use later.
Gravy and stock: To make the gravy, take the cooking juices and water mixture, add three tablespoons all-purpose flour and mix thoroughly into a slurry. Pour into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Adjust the seasonings with a quality chicken base, like Better Than Bouillon (where chicken — not salt — is the primary ingredient), and anchovy paste — or a fish sauce like Red Boat. Add these in half-teaspoon increments, stirring and tasting after each addition to avoid over-salting. Finish by sprinkling with dried thyme and white pepper to taste.
For the stock, place the bones in a large saucepan or stockpot. Cover with cold water by 1 inch. Add a bay leaf, two celery ribs, a medium carrot, and a medium onion in coarse dice. Bring to simmer. Spoon off and discard any foam that rises to the top. Cover and simmer for two hours or longer, adding water if needed.
Remove from heat and strain contents. Separate bones from veggies when cool enough to handle. Remove meat from bones. Place meat and aromatics in the pot with stock and reheat on range. Adjust seasoning as was done with gravy. Add small pieces of the previously boned meat, cover, and remove from heat. Refrigerate when cool, until ready to use or freeze.
Leftover menus: After the initial meal, choose from chicken salad for sandwiches and salads; chicken soup; chicken enchiladas; chicken noodles; gravy-topped hot chicken sandwiches garni; or a chicken potpie.
Not a bad culinary dividend for an investment under five bucks, plus a couple of veggies, and some spare thyme.