Chicken gets a bad reputation and I really don’t know why. It has to be one of the most versatile proteins in the kitchen to have. You can find it almost everywhere and in the U.S., you can find it pretty cheaply. I like using it as base protein to build a meal because I can guarantee that my kids will eat it.
Quarter legs have to be one of the cheapest cuts of chicken available. That is when we are talking wings, legs, thighs, breasts and variation of those (1/2 chicken, whole chicken etc) not organ meats. Quarter legs are the drumstick and thigh as it is cut away from the backbone of the chicken, so occasionally the piece will include part of the backbone. They are just “dark meat” chicken, the meat tends to be more moist because you don’t have to cook it as long as you would a breast.
They do have a higher fat content than white meat, but for the portion that you should be eating, this is kind of negligible. Something else I try to keep in mind is that, yeah, it has slightly more fat, but if my kids will only eat deep fried chicken tenders dipped in ranch dressing, it’s considerably less fatty than that and so much better than any of the other crap they get fed on a normal basis (McDonalds, Burger King, pizza etc).
The most I will pay for quarter legs when it is prepackaged is $0.79/lb. There’s no reason to pay more because of the amount of skin, fat and possibly bone attached to the quarter leg. Every 3 months or so, most grocery stores will run a special on quarter legs and they will be $0.39/lb. Stock up! For about $2.50 you will have 5-8 quarter legs in pack and that is enough to feed a family of 4-6 people (It depends on how many side dishes, if you are feeding 4 teenage boys vs 6 toddlers etc).
Once you get used to cooking with quarter legs, you will notice there are slight differences between the brands. At Food Lion, they are sold in bags, the Country Fresh brand has “cleaner” chicken, less feathers, clearer skin, less fat on their quarter legs. Those are 5lb bags. The 10lb bag (I don’t know the name) has “rougher” looking chicken. Those I have to spend more time cleaning up. Same applies to Harris Teeter – their quarter legs are sold wrapped on the styrofoam boards, they are also a bit “rougher”. I tell you all this to say, I will pay the $0.79/lb for Country Fresh because I’m getting more meat less crap, for the other brands, I stick to $0.39 – $0.59 because there is so much more waste. However, when they are not on sale, I would probably just pay the $1.99/lb for regular thighs or regular drumsticks because of reduced cleaning time / amount of viable meat etc. Please note, alot of ethnic stores – Compare Food, Super G Mart (local to NC), will sell “cleaned” chicken quarters – you will notice that they typically are scored on the back of the skin, have excess fat removed and skin is blemish free. These will be more and if you don’t like touching meat – they can be worth it.
OK – so now you’ve bought 15lbs of chicken quarter legs and are happy because you only spent like $6.00 and this is easily 3-5 meals. What do you do?
1. Clean up the chicken
2. Season the chicken
3. Portion it off for meals – refridgerate or freeze unused portions
4. Cook chicken based off how you want to eat it
Sounds simple enough right? I typically dump the chicken in to a clean sink. Run it under cold water to remove juices and here are some ways of cleaning the chicken, it kind of depends on how you want to prepare it.
There are 3 levels of cleaning these quarter legs. Each level is dependent on what you want your food to come out like. However, at a minimum, the chicken should be cleaned up.
1. Using table salt, scrub the skin to remove fatty deposits and blemishs and just clean the skin. Remove excess feathers. Ensure if there is a piece of backbone attached, no organ meats are attached (running your thumb against the ridge will dislodge anything that is not meat). Partially separate skin from meat and rinse that cavity out.
2. Step 1 plus removing excess fat deposits under the skin (they are white or yellowish).
3. Remove skin entirely from the piece. With the skin, off comes most of the fat. Still check the backbone with your thumb to remove excess.
I usually stick to a level 2 cleaning. I rarely remove the skin off the chicken as it creates a great crust during baking and a really good barrier when grilling. That looks something like this
From there… it is seasoning time.
I make an all purpose chicken seasoning. It complements most other flavors and provides a good base seasoning on the chicken.
1 part Pepper, 3 parts paparika, 1 parts granulated garlic, 1 part onion powder, 1/4 part red chili flake and 1 part a salted seasoning (cavenders, lawry’s whatever you prefer OR mrs dash). You can use this as tsps or tablespoons or cups or quarts..whatever you like. You can also tweak the proportions based on what you like as flavors – like garlicly food? increase it. Like it oniony? increase it. Want more spice? Add some cayenne or increased the crushed red pepper (red chili flake).
Liberally apply the seasoning to the underside of the chicken, directly on the top side meat and on the skin (if the skin is still attached). Let this rest for about 15 minutes. (If your seasoning mix does not have salt in it at all, you can actually refridgerate overnight if you like).
At this point, you can do 3 things with the chicken. You can fry it. You can bake it at 350 degrees for about 55 minutes or until done (the skin and meat around the drumstick draw up from the edge). You can also pan sear it.
I prefer to bake at 350 degrees. Lay the chicken out on a baking sheet that has been covered in foil (easy clean up). Arrange the chicken skin side up with no overlapping for even cooking. Top shelf in the oven for a while.
If just having oven baked chicken – cook it until it is done. Serve with rice and a salad. Or 2 veggies – corn and green beans or whatever variation you want.
If grilling the chicken, cook it for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. This ensures that the chicken is 75% cooked. The rest of the cooking process will happen on the grill. While your chicken was cooking, you should have started up your grill, so it’s nice and hot with indirect heat. Place the chicken skin side down on the grill. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken using tongs – apply a thin layer of BBQ sauce or teriyakki sauce or a wet Jerk seasoning or nothing, maybe you just want a grilled chicken flavor. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Flip the chicken again - apply a layer of sauce. Cover and cook for 5 additional minutes. Then uncover, douse the chicken until it is saucy as you want it. Keep the chicken on the grill for another minute or two (long enough for the sauce to warm up) – remove using tongs.
For a beautiful one pan meal…I’ve made a bastardized version of http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/roasted-chicken-legs-with-potatoes-and-kale
(C) Tina Rupp Food and Wine Magazine
Pretty much, get 4 washed potatoes (use white ones – Idaho or Yukon Gold or a bunch of fingerlings), slice them so they are rounds about 1/4″inch thick (for maximum nutritional value, leave skins on, else you can remove them).
Get a green leafy vegetable - Food and Wine uses Kale, I’ve used collard greens, cabbage, mixed greens (mustard, collard etc). I’m sure kale, swiss chard, napa cabbaage, or bok choy would also do well. I would advise against spinach as it’s rather delicate.
Lightly oil the bottom of a roasting pan (you need one that is at least 3″ high), make a layer of potatoes. Season with a bit of salt and pepper (minimal). Add your vegetation, sprinkle about 1 tbsp of oil on the veggies. Then place your seasoned cleaned (level 1) quarter legs on top of that. Cover with foil – bake @ 425 for 20 minutes on the top rack. Uncover the pan, bake for another 30 minutes or so until it is cooked all the way through. The juices/fat from the chicken will end up braising the greens and cooking the potatoes. The meal is complete as it has a starch, greens and protein. I would probably still serve it up with salad.