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Recipes with Chicken: Diversify your Chicken Repertoire with Simple Changes to Classic Cooking Methods
Chicken is a delicious, healthy, and affordable dinner option that graces my table at least 3-4 times a week. With this frequency the entrée can become monotonous. Because of this I have done my best to come up with a variety of methods for preparing the meat that need just a few ingredients and a little of my time.
Start with Chicken in the Right Condition
Although chicken is very easy to cook there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure it comes out tender and juicy. The fresher the chicken the better it turns out. If you frequent the grocery store and can buy meat for the same night or the next night that’s great but if you are like me and buy in bulk once a week you can freeze chicken. I buy the big packs of chicken breasts then separate them when I get home into individual zip-lock bags and put them in the freezer. Chicken legs and thighs can be treated the same way. Chicken should be completely defrosted before you start cooking it. Don’t get me wrong I have put my fair share of frozen and semi-frozen chicken into my oven but there is a distinct difference in the end product.
If my chicken in frozen, I usually lay it out in the morning on a plate and it is defrosted by evening when I am ready to cook. Some people have issues with leaving it out on the counter because bacteria can grow. All I know is I have been laying chicken out like this since I was 10 (that was 26 years ago, 3-4 mights a week for 26 years you do the math.) I have never had a problem but if this makes you nervous you can put your frozen chicken into the refrigerator the night before and it should be fine by the next evening. Unlike beef, chicken can be cooked while cool so there is no problem with leaving it in the fridge until it is time to prepare.
I have never frozen then defrosted a whole chicken. This is not because it cannot be done it is just that when I buy a whole chicken I usually cook it the first night because I am going to make other meals with the leftovers.
If you want to see what I do with leftovers check out this article.
- Make the Most of Your Money... Stretch One Chicken to Feed Your Family Dinner for 3 Days
1 chicken 3 dinners. With a few simple ingredients you can stretch your food budget to lengths you never thought possible.
Baked Chicken Ideas
Baked recipes are a trade off of hands on time and time to complete the cooking. The nice thing about baking is that if you are home early enough to start the meal then you can prep it and pop it into the oven. While it is baking you can go and do other things that need to be done around the house like helping kids with homework or doing laundry. An average chicken breast or thigh will bake in 45min in an oven set at 350 if the oven was perheated before the chicken was put in. If not it may take a little longer. Chicken legs and whole chickens take longer due to the bone inside. You will need to give them at least an hour. I always cut into my chicken to make sure it is cooked all the way through. You can also check with a thermometer. Chicken must be at least 165 degrees farenheit. The best place to check is the thickest part of the meat.
Sprinkle and bake your chicken
This is one of the easiest ways to add variety to your chicken meals. Find a dry seasoning that you like and sprinkle it over the top of your chicken pieces. I don’t mean just dash a little on like you might salt something. I mean coat it. Not so thick the color of the chicken doesn’t show through but cover the whole surface. This technique is best with whole (bone in or bone out) breasts, thighs, and legs. When you serve these chicken pieces cooked this way each bite will only contain a small amount of the seasoning so don’t be afraid the cover the meat with the spices. This layer of spices helps to trap in moisture and allow even white meat to stay juicy.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different seasonings like rosemary or dill but remember, to get the benefits of moisture retention one of your seasonings should be a fine powder. Powdered garlic and onion are staples in my house.
Make your own Garlic Onion Sprinkle
- onion powder, sprinkle the whole piece of meat
- garlic powder, sprinkle the whole peice of meat
- salt, LIGHTLY sprinkle the whole piece of meat
Or buy one you love
My husband and I love the Zataran's Blackened Seasoning but keep in mind that this one is on the spicy side. We started using it when we started lessening the salt in our diet. It still has salt but less than the mixes we had used before.
Marinate and bake your chicken
You can marinate a chicken in 20 minutes or overnight. This technique is great if your meat is already defrosted the night before. Just take it out of the package and put into a bowl. Cover the meat completely with the marinade. If you have just a few pieces of chicken use a small bowl otherwise you will need a ton of marinade. Make sure each piece is coated in the marinade on all sides. Cover and put in the fridge. When it is time to cook, simply place on a pan and bake just as you would the sprinkled chicken.
It is better not to pour extra marinade into the pan for the chicken to cook in because it will end up boiling instead of baking. Baking properly allows the outside of the chicken to cook first sealing in the juices. Boiling draws out the fats and flavors. That is why boiling chicken for soups is ideal but when you are baking all of that extra juice will just get tossed along with the good flavor and consistency of the chicken
Make your own Oriental Marinade
- soy sauce (enough to cover the chicken)
- garlic (fresh, dried, or powdered)
- onion (fresh, dried or powdered)
- brown sugar (about 1 tsp per piece of chicken)
Mix all of these ingredients together then pour over the chicken.
Experiment with restaurant marinades
I once brought boneless chicken thighs marinated in the Asian Zing Marinade from Buffalo Wild Wings to a pot luck. I have never had so much praise over such an easily prepared dish.
Pan Cooked Chicken Ideas
You can use the same sprinkle recipes and marinades on pan cooked chicken as you do for baking but proportions and timing will be different. Pan cooking your chicken is best when there is less time to cook dinner.
A tip for cooking chicken breasts… If you want to cut your chicken up into small pieces sear it first on both sides then cut it up. This reduces flavor and moisture loss.
If you are going to cook your chicken breasts or boneless thighs whole then it is ok to cover the meat the way you would when you are baking with dry spices. (Note keeping these pieces whole requires you to cook at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time to keep the outside from burning and the inside being raw.) If you cut the chicken up into small pieces before you add the seasonings, use LESS. Use your sprinkle mixture the way you might use a salt shaker at the dinner table shaking it over the chicken as it browns in the pan.
When adding wet seasonings like BBQ sauce or marinade you need to add it to the pan after the chicken is mostly cooked otherwise you will end up with the boiled chicken issue again. Also if your marinade has sugar in it the sugar will likely burn if it is in the pan as long as the chicken needs to be.
Remember a little bit of oil goes a long way when you are cooking meat. You only need enough to grease the pan and keep the chicken from initially sticking. Chicken, even breast meat, naturally contains fat that will melt during the cooking process and prevent the meat from sticking and allow it to get nicely browned.
Two tips for cooking whole chickens
- Put butter or olive oil between the skin and the breast meat of the chicken. Dark meat on a whole chicken takes longer to cook than the breast meat because of the bones inside of it. The extra cooking time needed by the dark meat might allow your white meat to dry out. The Dark meat also contains more fat that the breast meat and therefore does not need an additional fat source.
- Try using a roasting aid. I like the Chick-can chicken holder. It holds a half can of soda or beer in the middle of the upturned chicken while it cooks. I've done a lemon/lime soda in the middle with a citrus marinade on the chicken.
Chicken, chicken everywhere but never the same meal
If you followed the tips above you could get away with buying one whole chicken, one large package of breasts and you could have a different menu every night. Start with baked BBQ chicken and serve with green beans, potatoes, and pineapple. On a different night have pan-cooked Oriental Chicken and broccoli over rice. A third night could be a whole Citrus Chicken served with baked potatoes (cooked while the chicken is baking) and steamed veggies. You get the idea. Determine what your staples should be and keep your pantry stocked so that when you family asks what’s for dinner you won’t have to tell them the same old thing.