Getting Dinner on the Table - Chicken Edition

I have a pretty hefty commute to and from work each day. I'm lucky enough that my work provides me with a free bus pass, so most of that commute is on public transportation and I can sit and read or sleep or even knit on occasion. (Don't judge me, it's cool to knit. You're just jealous.) With the time traveling home from work, though, I usually don't get there until late and I'm completely starving. Dinner prep has to be as fast as possible so I don't go crazy eating almond Snickers and Symphony bars. (Don't judge me, you know you love almond Snickers, too.)

Since I'm guessing that you probably need to get dinner on the table pretty quickly, too, I thought I'd share some of the ways I've found to help me save time when serving chicken dishes. They're also good ways to save money because you can buy chicken when it is one sale and prep it for later in the month.

Pre-chop Raw Chicken

Cashew Chicken Curry
Broccoli Skillet Chicken Pasta
Chicken Lime Tacos

The first way is to cut your chicken up ahead of time and then freeze it. I have a few recipes I like that use chicken that has been cut into 1 inch pieces. (Some of which are pictured above this paragraph.) I buy a family-sized pack of chicken breasts (a package sized to feed a family, not a package the size of an actual family.) and then chop all of it into pieces. Yes it's a little bit tedious chopping it all at once, but the good part is that you only have to do it once.  I don't know about you, but once I have icky chicken juice hands and icky chicken juice counter, I just want to do whatever I need to do with the chicken and get it over with so I only have to clean up once. 

I hate icky chicken juice hands.

Once the chicken is all chopped, I then pull out my trusty kitchen scale and weigh out a pound of chicken pieces onto a clean piece of saran wrap. Slide the saran off the scale, replace with another piece of saran (Pre-cut these pieces of saran so you don't get your saran wrap box all yucky with your icky chicken juice hands.) and repeat. If I end up with a little extra chicken I make a 1/2 pound pile on another piece of saran wrap because sometimes you need a pound and a half of chicken. 

If you don't have a trusty kitchen scale, just divide the package into even portions based on the number of pounds you bought. 

Just so you know, though, kitchen scales are way awesome. You should ask for one for your next birthday.

Wrap up the pile of chopped chicken chunks with the piece of saran it is sitting on, wrap it again with another piece of saran wrap, then put it in a freezer bag with the date on it. Pop it in the freezer and you're done. No more chopping up chicken at night when you need to use it. I usually pull out however many pounds of chicken I need the night before and let them thaw in the fridge for a day. (In a bowl so they don't leak icky chicken juice all over the fridge. I hate icky chicken juice leaking in my fridge.) When I cook with them, I pat the pieces dry with a paper towel because they release water in the freeze/thaw and won't brown as well unless they are dried off. It's amazing how much faster food can come together once you take out the time for cutting up the chicken and cleaning up afterward.

Pre-Cook Chicken

Artichoke Heart Chicken Pasta
The other method I use with chicken is for recipes that call for pre-cooked chicken. There's a number of different ways to get cooked chicken - leftovers, rotisserie chickens, baking, poaching, begging from your mom, etc. You can cook the chicken however you like best or using whatever is on sale. Lately I've been putting chicken breasts in the pressure cooker in some broth for 8-10 minutes and calling it good. It stays moist this way and gets a little bit of flavor from the broth. Sometimes I roast a chicken in the oven, or if I don't want to heat up the house I put the bird in the crock pot for 5-6 hours, breast side down. Let rest for 15 minutes after cooking and pull off the meat. Whatever your preferred way of cooking chicken, use it. 

Once you have the cooked chicken, chop it up into chunks (you can also pull it into pieces, but I usually don't have enough patience for this and I really like using my big chef's knife.) and then load it into a 1 cup measuring cup lined with saran wrap. Most recipes seem to call for 1 cup increments of cooked chicken so that's how I portion it out. 

I twist the saran up around the cooked chicken and then put all the little balls of cooked chicken into a freezer bag and freeze them. (If your chicken was warm when you started cutting it up, put the chicken balls in the fridge to cool off first.) Once again, when I know I'm making a recipe with cooked chicken in it, I just take out what I need and let it thaw in the fridge overnight.

Those are my couple little tips to help get chicken dishes on the table faster. It takes time on a Saturday or weeknight to get the chicken ready, but I am always glad to have the prepared chicken when I get home from work and I start making dinner.

Do you have any chicken preparation tips that make dinner faster to prepare?

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