After filling jars with delicious foods it's sometimes hard to find ways to use them. Last year, we raised and butchered 75 chickens. We have favorite ways to use it, such as chicken & dumplings, chicken pot pie, and chicken chunk gravy over mashed potatoes. But when you stare at more than 70 quarts of chicken in the pantry you start wishing you had more ideas for using it.
It begins with cooking the chicken. I boil the whole chickens in my five-gallon kettles for about an hour. While the chickens boil I round up jars and make sure they're clean, and get out lids and rings. I simmer the lids in a small sauce pan.
After the chickens are cooked I let them cool a bit, then lift them carefully out of the hot water into a strainer basket placed over a bowl. When they're cool enough to touch, I pull the meat off the bones. The meat goes in a bowl and the bones go back into one of the kettles to be simmered for broth. Later I strain out the bones and can the broth.
Spoon the meat into jars and cover it with broth, and add a teaspoon of sea salt. Then I run a narrow rubber scraper down the insides of the jar, up and down all the way around the jar, to release trapped air bubbles. I wipe the rim of the jar with a damp cloth, then use a fork to raise the edge of a lid out of the simmering water and place the lid on a jar and screw a ring over it. (There's a magnetic stick you can use to fish the lids out of the water).
My two pressure canners were on the stove with water steaming in the bottom of them. I set the jars in the canners, 7 quarts to a canner, then secured the lid on the canner. Before canning I always inspect the rubber seal in the lid where it sits on the canner pot, and the rubber safety relief valve, to make sure they're in good shape. Mine were, so with the lid locked in place I turned up the heat and in a short while steam started coming out the center post. After ten minutes of steaming I set the weight on the post.
The canning times for chicken are 75 minutes for pint jars and 90 minutes for quart jars, at 10 lbs of pressure for elevations under 1,000', and 15 lbs of pressure over 1,000'. Start timing when the canner is at the correct pressure. For a canner with a “jiggler”, begin timing when the weight jiggles a few times a minute. Try not to let it get too active at jiggling or it releases too much water from the canner in the form of steam. Not enough jiggling could mean the pressure is too low and it won't raise the heat inside the canner high enough to kill all the bacteria and pathogens that can spoil food.
On a canner with a gauge, stay nearby and check frequently to see that the pressure stays within a pound or two of the required pressure. After the time is up, turn the canner off and leave it sit for about half an hour. Lift the weight carefully off the post (if you have a canner with a weight) and see if pressure comes steaming out. If it does, set the weight back down on the post and wait until there's barely any (or none) steam coming out. On a gauged canner, watch the needle until it drops to zero or close to it.
Now I open the canner, lifting the back of the lid up first to direct steam away from my face. I used a jar lifter to carefully remove the jars and set them on a towel on the counter. This is to keep the jars from experiencing a drastic temperature change, which could cause the jars to break. Jars can handle a lot of change, but going from a hot canner to a hard cold surface is a lot of stress on the glass.
As the jars cool, I listen for the “ping” as the lids suck down. The purpose of this seal is to keep any new bacteria from getting into the jars. The meat inside is basically sterilized at this point, and as long as nothing gets past that seal, it should stay safe to eat for a long time. Shelf life is determined in part by how and where you store the jars. A cool dark place with a steady temperature (no big daily or seasonal swings) will result in a longer shelf life. Officially the shelf life is one year. Although the quality may deteriorate after that, they can remain safe to eat for considerably longer.
ALWAYS inspect jars carefully when you open them. Tap the lid to see if it's still sucked down. If it bounces up and down, throw the contents away without touching them and sterilize the jar. Color changes in the food don't mean it's bad, but if it smells funny or for any other reason you aren't sure it's safe, throw it out. It's better to not take a chance.
Read Part 2 to learn some of the other ways I use home-canned chicken, and if you have any ideas of your own to share, please do!
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