I try to keep a number of staples canned up in my pantry because staples are so useful as base ingredients for many different meals. One of these items is boneless skinless chicken breasts.
I started canning chicken breasts about four years ago when I came across a good bargain on them. They proved to be so handy in so many recipes (curry chicken, chicken pot pie, chicken turnovers, etc.) that I decided to always keep a supply on hand.
Whenever I had a few dollars to spare, I purchased three-pound bags of frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts at Winco for $6. Don suggested I might be able to find a cheaper cut of chicken meat -- thighs, perhaps? -- for less money, but to my surprise boneless skinless thigh meat was costlier. I wanted to keep the meat both boneless and skinless since that way I can pack the most bang for my buck in each jar.
A couple weeks ago, while in our local wholesale grocery (Cash & Carry), I saw they had a sale on chicken breasts: 40 lbs. for $60, or $1.50/lb.
$60 is most of our weekly food budget, so I made a note on when the sale ended (November 18) and skimped on other groceries for that week.
I got the box just before the sale ended. I knew I could fit about two pounds of meat per quart jar, so I estimated I would get 20 quarts of canned meat from this box.
I optimistically thought I could get it canned up right away, but it was so frozen that I had to let it defrost slowly over a few days. I did that by putting the box in our "outdoor refrigerator" -- the top of our chest freezer. In this kind of weather, our outdoor fridge is quite handy.
The day came when I could finally start canning. It was a day of pouring and unrelenting rain...
...a day when the chickens darted from their coop into the shelter of Matilda's pen because they didn't want to face the weather. In other words, a perfect day for canning.
I washed seven quart jars -- all I can fit in my canner at one time.
Some people like to raw-pack chicken, but I prefer to cook mine first.
While I've used narrow-mouth jars for canning chicken, obviously the wide-mouth jars are easier to pack.
The chicken pieces need to be cut up in order to fit as many in a jar as possible. Feel free to cut the pieces as small as necessary. I suppose you could even dice the chicken if you wanted to, though I don't go to that extent.
Seven jars, filled with about two pounds of meat per jar.
I add a teaspoon of salt to each jar...
...then top everything with clean boiling water.
I leave about half an inch of headspace. My guide is the bottom of the bands on the mouth of the jar.
Wiping the rims. (This also allows me to check for any nicks on the rim I may have missed. A jar with a nicked rim won't seal.)
Scalding the Tattler lids.
Into the canner.
I use two kitchen timers while canning -- THE secret ingredient for stress-free pressure canning. The top timer gives me the overall canning time (ALL meats must be pressure-canned for 90 minutes for quarts). I set the bottom timer to go off about every five minutes, to remind me to check the pressure. At this point I'm waiting for the pressure to rise to the correct level, so I haven't started the top timer yet. (Timing doesn't start until the canner is at the correct pressure.)
Between twelve and thirteen pounds is the correct pressure for our elevation. Now I start the top timer and maintain the pressure for 90 minutes.
While the first batch of chicken was in the canner, I washed a second set of jars and got a second batch of chicken cooking in the stock pot.
By evening I had twenty quarts of chicken breasts canned up, just as estimated.
Canned chicken shreds beautifully, making it excellent for soups or stews or anything else.
Having a solid inventory of chicken is a versatile addition to anyone's pantry. If you can find boneless meat at a decent price, take advantage of it!