Cooking Chicken for the Freezer - 2 simple, versatile & delicious recipes

Tonight's entry is going to be a little bit different. Rather than focusing on a recipe, I have a technique that I've been using as a college student who is often pressed for time, working in a very small (shared) kitchen. As much as I love flavor complexity, I also really appreciate a simple recipe on occasion - especially when it comes to chicken. Chicken breast, like many other "center of the plate" foods (tofu, grains, you name it), is really only ever as good as the ingredients made with it, assuming we're not comparing overdone, dried out chicken breasts to moist, well-cooked ones. By batch cooking using a very simple, understated recipe for chicken, I can freeze all of the extras and have a more or less blank palate for countless quick-fix meals in the future. At the same time, they aren't so bland that you wonder why you even bothered including the chicken in your recipe in the first place.

Although you could think up enough spice, herb and marinade combinations that fit this criteria to try a new one each day for a year, these two are ones that I have tried recently and definitely recommend. The first one is an Italian blend of herbs that adds a touch of flavor while still leaving the chicken versatile enough to through into pretty much any recipe you might stumble upon in the weeks to come. The second is a smokier, paprika-spiced chicken that offers a slightly more intense flavor profile, but can still blend into a lot of various types of recipes. I have used both as stand-alones, as well as in salads, casseroles, and wraps - and not just plain ones, either. I have added sundried tomatoes and pecans to the smokier one, for example, and it worked out wonderfully. Like I said, these "rubs" or coatings are present enough to give the chicken some taste, but subtle enough to not overpower whatever main taste you're going for any given night. You can shred, dice, slice, or leave whole before freezing, adding another option for diversifying your menus without locking yourself in the kitchen for hours on end each night.

Italian Herb Chicken, courtesy of Aggie's Kitchen
Yield: 4-6 servings

The Ingredients
1.5 pounds chicken breast
1-2 tablespoons dried oregano
1-2 tablespoons dried thyme
1-2 tablespoons dried basil
1-2 tablespoons garlic powder
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
olive oil, for sauteeing

The Method
Mix all of the herbs and spices, including the salt and pepper, in a small bowl; note that this will make much more than you actually need. Here, you can separate what you want for the chicken and seal the rest in an airtight container for an easy blend in the future. Alternatively, you could cut these ratios to make just what you want for the recipe. Although I didn't write down exact measurements (go figure), I would imagine that halving everything would be appropriate.

After cleaning and trimming the chicken breasts, butterfly them and place them on a plate (I like to use a glass pie plate) and rub the herbs onto each side of each breast. If pan-sauteeing, place a scant amount of oil (2 teaspoons, perhaps) in a saute pan and add the chicken breasts over medium heat for 6-8 minutes per side. If grilling, drizzle the oil over the chicken breasts and place them on a hot grill (also over medium heat) for 5-7 minutes per side.

Smokier Herbed Chicken (pictured above), adapted from $5 Dinners
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

The Method
To broil: preheat the broiler. Meanwhile, combine all of the spices in a glass pie plate, mixing thoroughly and then spreading out to cover all or most of the bottom. Coat each chicken breast, both sides, in the spice mix and then transfer the chicken to a broiler pan. Broil for 8 minutes, flipping over halfway through.

To pan-saute: Follow the steps above, but instead of preheating the broiler and placing the chicken on a broiler pan, place approximately 1.5-2 teaspoons of olive oil in a saute pan and add the chicken breasts to that. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the meat has cooked halfway up the side, then flip the chicken over. Cook an additional 3-4 minutes, then butterfly the breasts and continue cooking, butterflied side down, until cooked all the way.*

Notes: *I like to think that the reason I continue to try to cook fat pieces of chicken in a short amount of time is that I am an incurable optimist. However, I always wind up having to butterfly them to speed the process up and get the middle cooked. So, you could alternatively butterfly the chicken from the very beginning, which would decrease the necessary cooking time and also prevent precious chicken juice from running out halfway through the cooking process.

Now, once the chicken that you are planning to freeze has cooled, at least enough to handle comfortably, prepare it as you would like (shred, dice, etc.), and place in a freezer-safe container. I like to use ziplock bags for shredded chicken and wax paper surrounded by foil for full pieces. Allow the chicken to cool completely before sealing, then pop in the freezer for a quick, easy meal another night!

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