For many homesteaders and farmers, chickens are more than backyard pets- they are meat and eggs to feed the family, or possibly a source of income. The reality of farming is that if a chicken isn’t producing or earning her keep, then she’s got to go.
They’re business, not something you name and let sit on your lap (oops!).
Or maybe you got stuck with a mean, nasty rooster. I’ve heard some horror stories! Being chased across your own yard by a flying ball of beak and spurs isn’t how anyone likes to spend their day…
One of the main goals of our homesteading venture is food production. And although I love animals, our main purpose behind having chickens and ducks is to raise them for eggs and meat. Somehow this is both the best and worst part of homesteading. I hate taking a life. It never gets easy… but as someone who has chosen to eat meat, I believe it is also my responsibility to be able to butcher and process that meat.
Knowing what went into raising a chicken, and honoring its life and sacrifice to nourish us, means we don’t waste a single morsel, including tough old bird meat (and the bones!). They don’t call them “stewing hens” for nothing. Because they take all day to cook and you can still end up with rubbery meat.
That is unless you pressure cook them! This is the magical answer for turning old hens into tender chicken dinner.
But I hate pressure cooking… honestly, it scares me and I’m not willing to walk more than a few steps away from the kitchen while I’ve got one on the stove, which ties me up for longer than I have to spare. Until I discovered the Instant Pot– an electric pressure cooker with a billion built-in safety features and a “set it and forget it” attitude. A pressure cooker that you can treat more like a slow cooker.
The perfect way to cook an old chicken, or ANY chicken for that matter!
If you raise your own meat birds, if you recycle your old laying hens every couple of years, or if you simply want a quick and easy way to cook chicken, even old birds- that makes them perfectly tender PLUS gives you incredible bone broth at the same time… then get yourself an Instant Pot.
And really, it’s so much more than a old-chicken cooker… It will turn the toughest (and therefore cheapest!) cuts of beef into fork-tender, juicy meat; it can cook a roast from frozen to fall-apart in a matter of a couple hours; and it is the ONLY way to make nourishing bone broth, as far as I am concerned. It makes applesauce in 10 minutes, cooks a baked potato in 15, and bakes a whole squash in 20 minutes.
How to Cook an Old Chicken in the Instant Pot
Overview: we want to cook the chicken until it is tender but not rubbery or mushy- this happens in a lot less time than it takes to make good broth. After we take the chicken off the bones, we return the bones and other bits to the pot with some aromatics for flavor and make the most incredible bone broth. Everything is cooked perfectly, and with very little effort.
Cut the chicken into quarters, or better yet break it down into the eight standard pieces: (2 of each) breasts, thighs, wings, drumsticks. (We cut up old hens before freezing them, so they are ready to go right out of the package after thawed). This doesn’t have to be perfect, or even pretty.
Season the chicken with salt, pepper and whatever other herbs or spices you’d like. Arrange the chicken in the bottom of the metal pot and then pour in 2 cups of water. DO NOT FORGET THE WATER. Make sure your contents doesn’t exceed the max fill line- which you shouldn’t even be close to with one chicken…
Follow the instructions for securing the lid and making sure the venting system is correct. I always use the manual mode (on high pressure) when using the Instant Pot… probably because I’m bossy and I like control, ha! Ahem, anyways… for an older, tough chicken, I find that 30 minutes seems to be the perfect amount of time for tenderizing the meat, but not turning it into mush. Set the Instant Pot for 30 minutes under high pressure and go about your business.
The chicken should be tender enough to eat, but it isn’t going to be the same as a young chicken, even after being pressure cooked. You might even call it slightly rubbery, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for eating! I find the best use for “old chicken” is anywhere you’re going to chop it finely… so, things like soup, enchiladas or other mexican-inspired casserole type dishes- something with other texture elements.
Once the pot has finished cooking and depressurized, use a tongs to remove the chicken pieces into a glass or metal bowl (leave whatever liquid is left in the pot). When the chicken has cooled slightly, pick all the meat off the bones and return just the bones and skin to the pot. I find that the cartilage at the ends of the bones tends to come off with the meat and sort-of hide in it- make sure these parts get back into the pot too! Pick through the meat- any tendons, skin, or other piece you wouldn’t want to eat should go back into the pot!
To the pot add:
1 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 yellow onion, root end cut off, onion cut in half
2 cloves garlic
2 celery stalks, cut into pieces
1 large carrot, cut into pieces
4 chicken feet
up to 8 cups of water (just cover the ingredients with water)
Yes, chicken feet. I won’t make broth without them! If you don’t have homegrown, you can find them at your natural grocery store for cheap- and they make all the difference in broth. Your broth likely won’t “gel” without them. I keep a bag of feet in the freezer and throw them right into the pot frozen in this case.
Place all the chicken parts and veggies into the pot and add water until these ingredients are just covered, being mindful not to fill above the max fill line.
Place the cover back on the Instant Pot and use the manual mode again, setting it for 90 minutes. To get the most out of my chicken bones, I find that going through two 90-minute cycles gives the richest broth with the most healing (and flavorful properties). So as soon as the first 90 minutes is up and the pot beeps at you that it is done, press cancel and then set for 90 minutes again (no need to wait for it to depressurize between sessions). If your Instant Pot timer goes higher, you can just set it for one cycle of 180 minutes.
(If you’re in a hurry, one 90 or 120-minute session is perfectly fine.)
When cooking is done and the pot has depressurized, unplug the pot and allow the broth to cool slightly. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass or metal bowl.
You’ll never waste an old chicken or mean rooster again!
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