Last week, I posted this recipe, and like so many casserole-type dishes, it calls for the ubiquitous “cooked chicken.” Over the years, I’ve learned that “cooked chicken” can either be flavorful and tender, or a dried out, tasteless mess depending on how you prepare it. I used to cut far too many corners when cooking chicken, because I figured, if it was casserole-bound anyway, nobody could really tell the difference as to how I cooked it, right?
Um…wrong. Unfortunately for me, you really can tell the difference, and how your chicken is cooked may be what takes your dish from “Meh…” to “Yum!” I finally admitted to myself that sometimes, you only get out what you put in, and gave my chicken-cooking process an overhaul. Here’s how I do it:
First, the smarter, economical, and more flavorful way to do this would be to use a whole chicken. However, there’s only so much extra effort I am willing to expend in life, and picking apart a cooked chicken carcass is not high on my fun list. Instead, I use four or five frozen chicken breasts, depending on their size, and the proportions of the remaining ingredients are based on that amount of chicken. If you were to use a whole chicken, double the remaining ingredients to accommodate for the size and water you’ll need.
Here’s the players:
I use two or three stalks of celery, one medium/large yellow onion, one lemon, several sprigs of fresh thyme (or a teaspoon of the dried stuff), peppercorns, kosher salt, and of course, the chicken. I start by tossing the chicken in a large pot:
Then I chop the celery into thirds:
Peel and quarter the onion:
And slice the lemon:
I toss all of that into the pot with the chicken, and then I add the thyme, about one or two tablespoons of kosher salt, and a heaping tablespoon of the peppercorns:
That’s some accurate measuring, right there. Next, I fill the pot with water until the chicken is covered by about an inch or two of water:
Yep, that four whole minutes of prep time was arduous, now wasn’t it? Finally, I slap on the lid and bring the chicken to a boil over high heat. As soon as it starts to boil, I reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer at a low boil for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. When the chicken is done, I remove it from the pot and chop/shred it to my desired size:
Once my chicken is dealt with, I strain the cooking liquid though a fine mesh strainer, and TA-DA:
Homemade chicken stock! This will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two, and in this case, I used it (instead of water) to cook the noodles for my King Ranch Mac and Cheese.
Now, I’m sure a Food Network star would throw even more crap in the pot for flavor, but budget-wise, this method is a compromise between my desire for all things tasty and my depressingly meager wallet. Since all these ingredients are items I usually keep on hand anyway, I’m also never out too much effort either. If I happen to have fresh parsley, I also toss it in, but I wouldn’t go buying it just for this.
So, there ya have it. Next time your casserole, pizza, or other dish calls for “cooked chicken,” give this method a try and see if it helps. If you already knew this, more power to you, sister. We all know my learning curve is longer than the average bear’s.