Saturday, October 26, 2013

Voila! First Successful Chicken Canning!

So a couple weeks ago I picked up my chicken from Zaycon Foods. I have to admit that I was excited. (It's the simple things in life my friends!)

I was scheduled to pick up my 3 units, which equates to 120 pounds of chicken breast. I know, I know, you should have seen the look on Husband's face when I told him how many pounds it was...

"Okay. How many pounds will that give us?"

I paused momentarily before I actually told him. It had occurred to me earlier in the week, as I was calculating the amount of time it would take me to wash the chicken off (yes, I have to wash it off's the OCD in me), cut the butterflied breasts apart, slice up the meat, then prep the jars, prep the broth, and coordinate it all so that the meat wasn't out of refrigeration too long, then process it. Needless to say, I knew I wasn't going to have enough hours to do it all in one day.

"It will give us about one-hundred pounds of chicken," I said off-handedly.

"What? How much?" He asked looking over at me, his eyebrows up way over the top of his glasses.

"It'll give us plenty of chicken," I said looking him straight in the eye.

"Exactly how much chicken?" he asked suspiciously.

"One-hundred-and-twenty-pounds of chicken breasts," I said confidently.

"HOLY CR#P honey! Do you know how much chicken that is?" He asked shocked. "Do you know how long that's going to take you?"

"Yes, I know how much chicken that is. It's 120 pounds," I said giving him a warning look, which after 23 years of marriage he knows means, "you are treading towards dangerous waters, so select your next words carefully." ;-)

"Okay...well I guess we'll have plenty of chicken."
Smart man. Very. Smart. Man. (And just one of the reasons why I love him so...)

Traffic was pretty calm & steady for 2 hours straight.
Interestingly two days before I was to pick up my order Zaycon's customer service called me wanting to know if I was interested in helping out at the 2-hour event in exchange for earning credit on my account towards my next order. Absolutely! I can spend a couple hours helping out in exchange for food credit - sign me up!

So I showed up at 7:30 am and worked until 9:30 am and helped direct traffic. It was pretty easy, definitely not as physical as the ladies lifting and loading the boxes into the cars. Traffic came in waves and the time went quickly. It was interesting that there were cars of all makes and models - from a beat up pickup truck to a jaguar sports car. I guess everyone can use a way to save money on food.

My chicken looked just like the images online!
I was pleased that the chicken looked just like it showed on Zaycon's website. The breasts were significant in size and very little fat. I did have a total of about 1-2 pounds of skin across all three boxes, but it's not a big enough deal to cause me any pause.

The chicken was extremely cold, but not icy - which is important in keeping it safe during transport, and since I was going to freeze most of it, I didn't want it half frozen before I began processing it.

So about 13-14 years ago I was in TJ Maxx or Marshall's in the home section and came across a meat grinder and decided that I needed it. It was a very good price ($14.99) and I figured I would use it...someday.

Well my someday was here! And I do have to say it worked really well. I connected it to the end of my very heavy, industrial-strength, child-proof kitchen table and ground up one of the boxes of chicken.

I do have to admit though, the sound of chicken being ground up is a very unique sound. I now know where the foley artists get the sounds for the horror movies and the last episode of The Walking Dead.

I did think it was pretty funny that both my teenaged children thought the sound was disgusting and had a time dealing with it without spontaneously gagging. LOL!

So into the grinder it went...

And out came beautiful ground chicken!

The ground chicken I froze in my seal-a-meal in ~1.25# packages. This netted me about 22 packages of ground chicken. 
I canned about one full box, which gave me 21 pints. I have to admit that canned chicken is not the most visually appealing canned food. In fact, Husband kept joking that he half expected to see an eyeball suddenly spin around and look at him. It must be because it's October and Halloween is right around the corner...
Raw packed with broth netted cooked, tender chicken!
And BTW, I tested out my Tattler reusable canning lids and seals, since I have only used them for water bath canning not pressure canning. I wasn't surprised that they all turned out sealed and perfect! 

I have to plug this product. They're infinitely reusable (awesome!), dishwasher safe (even awesomer!), and eliminate the chance of spoilage due to corrosion (very nice). AND...most importantly...BPA free! (cue the angels singing and the ray of sun light!)

The one thing I noticed that is quite different that using the single-use metal lids is that they are rounded or curved when you first take them out of the canner (pressure and water bath), and as they cool, they seal and become concave. And there's no audible, satisfying 'pop' as they seal. 

I miss the 'pop' but I like that I don't have to buy lids each canning season - saves me money! 
Flaked apart and was so tender.
So I had to test one jar out, just to see how it smelled, tasted, and what the texture was. And I have to admit, I was really happy! It was so tender, flaking apart with a fork. It looked just like the canned chicken I buy at Costco. Just cost me much less per pound! 

The remaining chicken I sliced up into long strips, and froze it in ~1.50# bags in my seal-a-meal. I didn't have the time to marinate and freeze. Maybe next time, when I only buy one or two boxes. ;-)

Now on to my tomatoes...I've got to find a green-tomato recipe to can, since my San Marzano tomatoes were prolific but didn't seem to ripen in time for me to can tomato sauce. =0/ 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Buying in Bulk

Having a family with three children (two of them teenagers) means we go through a lot of food between their hungry mouths and friends. I'm always looking for ways to buy at a savings AND try and buy non-GMO certified or organic. This can be a tough combination. But, it is becoming easier...just not fast enough. =0/

I'm trying a new food service: Zaycon Foods
I'm excited about it because of the money you can save by planning ahead and investing a little work. The philosophy is that by buying direct, cutting out the middleman, you save significant money per pound. I'm all for investing some time and saving money...who isn't? So I went big - I bought 3 units of chicken breast (40 pounds per unit) which works out to $1.84/pound. Granted it's not organic (which is my first preference) but it is boneless, skinless chicken breast, that is direct from the processor with no additives or artificial ingredients and no hormones. This will provide me with chicken for my long-term meal planning, and I can extend how far out I can plan meals by supplementing with organic meats as my budget allows.

I'll meet at the pick-up spot and take my 3 units; they'll be in a bag-lined cardboard box.

I'm eager to see if my chicken is as clean and lean as what is pictured on their website.     
I'm planning on breaking it into thirds so I can freeze 1/3; cut 1/3 into strips, marinate and freeze; and can the remaining third. I'm actually really excited about trying out this food service (you know how I get the time of year, and 'Squirrel Girl' is ready to put food up for the winter!) ;0)

This weekend I did a small test run of canning chicken, just to see how difficult it was. Since I have never canned meat before, I thought it would be prudent to do a small test batch before having 120 pounds of chicken in my kitchen. It was so easy! It took me about 15-20 minutes to prep the jars, cut up the fresh chicken, and put everything together. And 75 minutes later I had my three test jars done.

October 12th is the day I pick up, so I'll post the results when I've gone through all my prepping.