Weeknight Cooking

A Whole Roast Chicken Worth Making, Even for One

April 21, 2016

Since living alone, I kind of stopped eating chicken. Not because I don't like it, but because I like to buy my chickens whole and yet a whole chicken for one has felt impossible. Every time I've considered it, I'd think "I'll be stuck eating the thing for how many meals?"

Photo by Kristy Mucci

When you're cooking for two, a whole chicken is perfect: You get a few days out of it, make a stock for later, and it's this lovely little routine. A routine I feel like my single appetite can't keep up with.

And I can't be the only one. But so far, I have enough to worry about in my post-marriage experience without letting dinner—and especially anxiety about poultry—get to me. Which is why I've mostly been avoiding it.

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Then I came across Renee Erickson's Roasted Chicken with Fried Capers and Preserved Lemon. I love her cookbook, and flip through it often, and I got kind of hung up on this recipe. I'm a sucker for preserved lemons and was eager to break my poultry restriction.

So I invited a few friends over and made a whole chicken. It was so good that there was nothing left of it, and I craved it for weeks after.

I like this recipe for so many reasons: One being that it makes my house smell like brown butter, and the effect that has on my mood is some kind of magic I can't fully understand. Plus, since I'm getting myself back into the kitchen, I want to feel like I'm really doing things in there. It's easy to throw a bird in the oven and let time and heat do their thing, but this recipe calls for a little more work: You get to fry capers, you get to brown butter, and you get to baby the bird by basting it several times.

The first time I made this, I added cauliflower to the pan—cauliflower cooked in brown butter and chicken fat until it's so tender it's practically mush is another kind of magic I'd like to experience more often. The whole thing made me feel pretty blissful (and now I know a big part of this was having company), and I wanted to repeat the meal as soon as I could—I thought I could handle a whole chicken on my own. The second time, I loved it just as much, but now I had leftovers. And a lot of them.

It took me five days to get through the whole bird, and each meal was a step down from the last. I wasn't going to waste this chicken, but at one point, I felt like I was being held hostage by this thing. I actually canceled plans with friends: "I can't go out for dinner tonight, I have this chicken I need to get through." Every lonely leftover meal rubbed my singleness in my face and made me swear off attempting a whole bird again. It's unfortunate, because a roasted chicken is so comforting.

Back when I was confident in the kitchen, I'm sure I could have come up with several solutions for this problem. Instead, I'm still avoiding chicken altogether.

If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them, because I really don't want to keep missing out.

How can one person tackle a whole chicken? Tell us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Stephanie DiSantis
I'm a freelance food and prop stylist, writer/editor, and video producer.


Crr0321 September 7, 2021
Years later lol… What are the chances this recipe could be imparted upon Cornish hens?
lyn June 25, 2016
Maybe I have a healthier appetite than most, but I probably would polish off a whole chicken within two days by myself if I am not careful! A useful trick might be starting with a smaller chicken. Other than the obvious sandwiches and stock-from-bones route, leftover chicken meat goes into grain salads, or a fried rice. I am partial to congee as well, so I do like a little shredded chicken on top of congee, with thinly julienned ginger, chinkiang vinegar, fried onions and coriander in the morning for breakfast.

If you are feeling a little more energetic, you could make a little 'potted' chicken. Shredded chicken chicken mixed with lots of melted butter and whatever flavourings you like (i like whizzed up grassy herbs: coriander, parsley and tarragon) or go vaguely middle eastern with spices and crushed nuts.
nlog2n May 16, 2016
Some suggestions on using leftover roast chicken: (1) little curried chicken salad sandwiches (with crust off) for work lunch or afternoon tea; (2) soup or consommé from the bones and gristle; (3) shredded chicken and ramen with baby bok choy; (4) BBQ chicken sandwich; (5) chicken pasta with just a dash of cream; (6) cream of chicken and wild rice soup with broccoli; and (7) chicken tacos with spicy salsa.
Leil April 24, 2016
This book has a number of ideas for transforming leftovers in appealing ways, especially when you are cooking for one: the pleasures of cooking for one by Judith Jones
Stephanie D. April 24, 2016
I get it, same boat. I end up eating out almost always. But!! Best thing I've done with leftover chicken is strip all the meat and make a chicken pot pie. It freezes on but I usually bring it to a friend who needs it (there's always someone sick, or moving, or just moved in, or has a broken bone or surgery keeping them in bed, or just a houseful of kids). It's awesome because it gets you like 1,000 friend points.
Stephanie D. April 24, 2016
Er, freezes "ok" not on. Curse you iPhone.
Andrea Y. April 23, 2016
And see, I (have to) (get to) cook for a husband and 3 children, and lately I've been thinking, "Wow, if I were single, I could cook whatever I want and have healthier, fancier, prettier meals all the time." Instead I have to cater to my not-that-picky-but-still family, some of who prefer large slabs of meat at every meal, others that turn their noses up at anything slightly spicy, and one that will eat anything... in about 2 minutes flat. So I guess the grass is always greener! I like to have company too, because all the effort of cooking is so appreciated then.
Kate April 23, 2016
Did you try Merrill Stubb's idea for leftover chicken?: https://food52.com/blog/7529-warm-chicken-salad Also, as a single person too, I find the smaller Cornish game hen route is more up my alley (a little more pricey per meal, but it sounds like you're not enjoying meal 5 of a full-sized chicken anyway)
wik April 22, 2016
With my beloved Irish Terrier--that's how this one person tackles a whole chicken!
mcs3000 April 21, 2016
Another beautiful post. Cauliflower in chicken fat and brown butter sounds fab.
Jaybles April 21, 2016
I cook chicken almost every Sunday and even for 2 it can be a lot. Consider breaking down the chicken first. The raw bird will keep for quite a while. Then you can just cook up a couple pieces every few nights. If you like cooking the whole bird, I cannot recommend highly enough spatchcooking (butterfly). White and dark meat need to cook to different temperatures and get there at different times (150-155 for breasts, 170-180 for legs). If you cut out the backbone with kitchen shears (or ask the butcher to do it) then cook it on a wire rack over a baking sheet, all the pieces will get to the right temp at the same time and in half the time! Oh and forget basting. It will make the skin soggy, not crisp, lengthen cooking time, and the flavor won't penetrate any deeper than the skin anyway.
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
Thanks, Jaybles!
Peter April 21, 2016
Hey stranger. I hear ya on the cooking for one as I had some experience with that before I got married.

For chickens you can spatchcock the whole chicken but cut it in half. Roast half and freeze half raw. Or butcher it into pieces for other purposes.
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
Thank you, friend!
Rob D. April 21, 2016
Hi Kristy

I get it, I've been living alone for a while now, but I'll be damned if that can stop me from cooking. I often do pretty elaborate things in the kitchen, even if it's just for myself. (Consider it practice for guests ;) ) It's good you rediscovered that joy.. Forget the comment from some of the people here about "therapy." cooking is therapy.

With chicken, I have the butcher split the thing in two, right down the breastbone. Follow the exact same recipes you normally would, and you get a great meal out of it... Leftovers on a half of a chicken should get you just one more component for the next night's meal.

Good luck, I think I'll try this recipe over the weekend.
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
Thank you, Rob! And yes, cooking is therapy, isn't it? I hope you like the recipe!
AntoniaJames April 21, 2016
You can take the meat off the legs (dark meat really works best for this because of its higher moisture content) and stuff it into a wide mouth Mason jar to freeze it. Add some stock to prevent freezer burn. Don't have stock?Swish 1/2 cup of water into the skillet in which you roasted the chicken, heat until the water bubbles, scrape all the bits away from the edge of the skillet, let cool, pour over the chicken. Freeze. Warning: Don't screw down the ring - just let it sit on the lid -- until the chicken has frozen. If a little mound rises up preventing tightening the lid after freezing, pour a teaspoon or two of boiling water directly on it and scrape it down.

I do this all the time, also with pork shoulder, as we cannot eat a whole chicken at once - and don't care much for the make-it-Sunday, eat-it-all-week approach. (Don't people who do that get very tired of the roasts and big pots of things that they then "eat all week"? I seriously don't get that.)

Using the freezer as I've just described makes it possible to rotate in and out, without that tedium. ;o)
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
This is so helpful, AntoniaJames! Thank you for sharing! (And I completely agree with you about eating the same thing all week. :))
AntoniaJames April 22, 2016
Just last night I used chicken leftover from a roast (taken from a jar as described above), made some of this sauce https://food52.com/recipes/6435-tamarind-lime-and-cilantro-sauce - a double batch, freezing half for future use with frozen leftover chicken or pork shoulder, or chunks of cod -- which we stuffed into phulka roti with salad + string beans on the side. Dinner! I do the cook once / eat twice (or more) thing on a regular basis, which includes components like that sauce and Mallika Basu's invaluable tomato curry sauce, as well as main dishes, rice, beans, grains, etc., and then rely on those goodies from the freezer no fewer than 3X a week. Such a great way to live. ;o)
emcsull April 23, 2016
I would be loathe to freeze something in a jar - do you do this often ? Would tend to use some kind of Tupperware-ish stuff. But jars - why not ? Do they have to be mason jars with rings ?
AntoniaJames April 25, 2016
emcsull, I use wide mouth (it's essential that they be wide mouth, without shoulders, so they don't break from expansion during freezing) whenever possible.

The prevailing practice of putting any- and everything into zipper lock bags seems so irresponsible from an environmental perspective. I realize that such bags can be recycled in some places but generally it's much less convenient than standard recycling, i.e., one must take the bags to a pickup point.

Consider this: if every one of Food52's unique site visitors in one month used a single 24-pack of quart zipper lock bags and did not recycle them, the volume of permanent, non-biodegradable waste produced would cover an entire American-style football field (100 yds x 53.3 yds) about 27 feet high - solid. Imagine that.

Yes, you can use plastic containers. I often do. But they are much more difficult to clean, especially when filled with curry sauce, tomato sauce, rich stocks and sauces, and the like. The mason jars go right into the dishwasher, no questions asked! And yes, I use lids with rings. I suspect there are other alternatives that work as well, but Ball / Kerr mason jars are the most cost effective glass jars of which I'm aware. I hope this helps. ;o)
Noreen F. April 21, 2016
Leftover chicken in my freezer is gold! Soup, grain salad, casseroles (yes, I am from the Midwest), pasta. The possibilities are endless.
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
I'll definitely start utilizing my freezer, and I'll start trying to think about leftover chicken as gold!
Bevi April 21, 2016
I have a "kitchen sink" chicken curry and vegetables recipe in my archive. I was able to make so much curry that I froze the leftovers, and 3 weeks later enjoyed the curry just as much as the first time around. It's nice to look forward to a delicious meal that only needs a quick pull out of the freezer. Have fun with your forays into the kitchen!
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
Thanks, Bevi!!
Stephanie R. April 21, 2016
I like to pick the chicken clean and use the leftovers for soups! I find that if it's in a soup, that "leftover dried out chicken" issue doesn't come up - there's nothing worse than chicken that's been reheated to death!
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
Nothing worse! Leftover dried out chicken is really a bummer. :)
Elaine April 21, 2016
Leftover roast chicken is my number-one staple for adding protein to my weekday lunches; I try to stick mainly with noodle salads or grain salads when I bring food to work, and shredding the entire post-dinner carcass is a weirdly zen activity for me and makes for some freakishly easy office meals for the next 4 or 5 days.

shredded chicken + grains or noodles + a crap-ton of cut veg = a happy midday me.
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
I think I can get into the zen-ness of shredding the chicken post-dinner. Thanks for sharing your lunch method!
Lumen April 21, 2016
This article isn't about cooking. It's about struggling to learn to be single, and makes me worried you should be seeing a therapist about these issues, not blogging about them as if they are recipes.

Stop worrying about wasting food, and concentrate on finding joy in your new life. Because being single is not a jail sentence or consignment to a life of solitude. It's not being single that's the problem, it's your self imposed attitudes that being single means you can't have the things you want.

Just cut the chicken off the carcass and freeze it. I promise you, it will be great later on shredded and put into a cold chicken salad, or in a soup.
HomeRemedy April 21, 2016
Harsh, and missing the point, I think... Cooking and eating are emotional experiences... This series is about rebounding from life's curve balls, in the kitchen, regaining a sense of self and community. I think it's courageous to admit that staging a comeback isn't always easy.

Kristy, I salute you for sharing, and being your authentic wonderful self -- on the page and off. (PS - I'll be making this chicken soon too!)
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
Thanks, HomeRemedy! xo
Lumen April 21, 2016
Harsh only if you think the recommendation of therapy is sarcastic, and not one made from genuine concern. It's time for society to stop acting like there is shame to needing help. The description in this article of canceling plans because of feelings that she is "kept hostage by a roast chicken", and multiple lonely dinners of left overs (the author's description) would deeply concern me if coming from a close friend. Feeling guilty to make a meal she want's because she's single... that's painful.

Expressing emotions is good. But there are undertones in this that are warning signs. I stand by what I said. Kristy should talk to someone and care for herself. The issue here is not what to do with the chicken.
Foodio C. April 21, 2016
I cook for two, but we can't stand leftover chicken. After roasting a chicken, I use the skeleton to make stock and then use the stock and meat to make chicken, lemon, rice soup (there's a recipe at foodiocentric.com). We eat the soup for the next night or two and then I freeze the rest for lunches. It freezes beautifully and makes a perfect work lunch. My husband also likes to "fry" the chicken in butter and eat it with eggs.
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
Thanks for sharing! Glad to know I'm not the only one who doesn't love leftover chicken.
Julie April 21, 2016
I feel your pain! I love roasting chickens, ducks, turkeys... I ambitiously dream of one day roasting a goose! However, none of these are practical when you're cooking for one.

I've pretty much relegated myself to only cooking chicken pieces to avoid the crazy leftover situation, but for those days when I know I want the whole chicken/duck/turkey, I'll plan a bunch of other meals with the meat to be completely different--skillets, enchiladas, salads, etc. With some variety in there, I don't feel as much of a hostage of the chicken. Then if worse comes to worst, I might just chuck the leftovers in the freezer with the hope that it will one day make it into a soup of some sort.

This particular roast chicken does sound delicious. I tried preserved lemons once, and now I'm obsessed. I may just have to make this one for myself... or maybe convert it for using chicken pieces (if I don't want to deal with crazy leftovers).
Kristy M. April 21, 2016
Thanks, Julie! A little planning ahead will definitely help. And the freezer and soup are very safe bets. I think even if you just use parts to make this recipe, it'll still be great!