Back in the summer of 2011, I was pregnant with my 3rd child. I was determined NOT to let the fast food, pizza, and take-out binge that happened after I had my 2nd child happen again. My goal was to have 30 meals in my freezer before Edison was born. By the time I delivered, I had 45! That was awesome! I collected recipes from various websites and friends, and even came up with a few of my own ideas, one of which I’ll share with you now because it’s my FAVORITE way to save time and money in the kitchen.
I’ll start by saying this: if you don’t like to cook, you might not like this idea. If you want to have a meal you can just take out of the freezer and heat and it’s ready to go, this might not be the best option for you.
But if you like flexibility. If you like being creative. If you like using what you’ve got on hand to throw something delicious together for dinner, then this idea will work for you.
The idea is simple: roast up bone-in chicken breasts, take all the meat off, portion it up, freeze it, and you’ve got a quick, healthy protein choice to go in dozens (if not 100s of recipes).
Here’s what you do:
Watch for bone-in chicken breasts to go on sale. When I was pregnant with Edison, it was a .79/lb sale that inspired my cook-a-thon. I have not seen prices go that low since. But last week, I did find them for $1/lb, so I jumped on it and bought 3 family packs.
I highly recommend the bone-in chicken breasts for this purpose. We’re going to roast them, then freeze them. I find that doing this usually causes boneless chicken breasts to dry out more than the bone-in variety. Boneless breasts are great fresh or frozen fresh- but not as great when you cook, freeze, and reheat.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Get out your breasts and arrange the breasts on a baking sheet. You can make the baking sheet nice and crowded, but in a single layer. I ended up filling the sheet three times.
Gather your seasonings. I usually use a generous dusting of salt and pepper and a sprinkling of olive oil. This time I also had some garlic grapeseed oil, so I used that instead of the evoo.
I keep the seasonings simple because these seasonings lend themselves to many different applications. If you knew you were going to use this entire tray for something like chicken enchiladas, then you could adjust your seasonings to reflect that (chili powder, cumin, more garlic, etc).
Bake. I’m not going to give you a time because I bake my chicken breasts according to temperature- 165 degrees. If they’re smaller breasts, the cooking time is shorter. If they’re larger breasts, they’ll take longer to bake so I don’t want to tell you 15 minutes and have you end up w/ raw or over-cooked chicken breasts.
Let them cool. Then de-bone them. If you haven’t done this before, it’s the messiest step. And kinda gross. Peel off the skin and use your fingers to removed all the meat from the bone. How clean you get the bones is up to you, but you want to get as much as you can. Tear up the chicken as you go, putting all the chicken pieces in a big bowl.
I’ve learned my technique through trial and error. The first time I did this, I just divided the chicken meat into 3 large portions in freezer bags. I didn’t think the cooked chicken pieces would freeze in one big chunk, but they did! It made it really difficult to get smaller portions off and ended up using more than I wanted too because that’s what I was able to break off without defrosting the entire block.
What does work, at least for me and my family, is this:
quart sized Ziploc freezer bags or quart sized Ziploc and gallon sized freezer Ziplocs.
a measuring cup.
a sharpie to label
Measure 2 cups of cooked chicken into a quart sized bag. Push out as much air as possible. Flatten the contents as much as possible. Repeat until all the chicken is divided up.
The quart sized freezer bags are ready to be labeled, but if you used regular quart bags you’ll have to put them into a gallon freezer bag to preserve their freshness and extend their freezer life. I fit about 3 quart sized bags in one gallon.
To give you an idea of how much chicken you’ll have:
I roasted 3 trays the size of the ones in my picture above.
I have 8 2 cup portions in my freezer plus I made chicken salad sandwiches the day after I roasted them (so in total 9 2 cup portions).
That’s a least 9 meals, almost ready to go!
What can you use cooked chicken for?
Off the top of my head, here are some ideas:
chicken noodle soup
chicken and stuffing casserole
chicken and rice
chicken + tomato sauce, seasoned and tossed w/ pasta
chicken stir fry
chicken + your favorite Indian simmer sauce, served over rice
chicken + a box of mac n cheese + peas for an easy Chicken Mac
chicken pesto pasta
chicken, warmed and served on a salad of fresh greens and veggies, topped with lite ranch
chicken, seasoned w/ your favorite taco/fajita blend, warmed and served on a bed of fresh iceberg and romaine, with corn, black beans and salsa/sour cream dressing for a Southwest salad.
chicken lo mein teriyaki
chicken lettuce wraps
chicken salad, served on your favorite bread, crackers, or a chilled iceberg leaf
And many more…what would YOU use cooked chicken for? I’m always open to new ideas!!!