Without a doubt one convenience item that many, many home cooks rely on to simplify weeknight meals is store-bought rotisserie chicken. While I certainly understand the convenience aspect of using a pre-cooked chicken to cut down on meal prep, I do not like that it comes along with an excessive amount of plastic and likely from a factory farm I know nothing about. My solution to this is simple. I buy a few whole chickens from our local butcher shop and keep them on hand in the freezer. When we have a lazy day at home, I fire up the oven and roast a chicken. Then we shred the meat and freeze the shredded cooked chicken to be used in any recipe I like at a moment’s notice. I also save the chicken bones and scraps to make chicken stock (more on that tomorrow). Using these methods, you can get quite a lot of bang for your buck from one chicken. I realize like many homemade versions of store bought things, this may sound labor intensive but I promise this is very, very easy and requires very little active work.
Indy area readers, I can’t say enough wonderful things about Moody Meats. We have been purchasing nearly all of our eggs, poultry and meat from them for years and they are wonderful. I think it’s important to know where your food comes from and support local farmers when you can, so I feel very lucky having such a great butcher shop just minutes away from my house.
To ensure that the meat stays moist, I do a quick brining step. Combine ½ cup of table salt and 2 quarts of cold water in a stockpot or Dutch oven. Stir to dissolve.
Place the chicken in the brine, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. I turn mine halfway through to make sure both sides are getting the brine but turning may not be necessary depending on the shape and size of your pot.
Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Brush about 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the chicken, covering both sides. Season with salt and pepper. This is the point when you can also add aromatics to the cavity if you wish such as lemon, garlic, and other spices or herbs. I don’t usually bother with that if I am making the chicken simple for the purpose of shredding and freezing. If I’m making a roast chicken as a main dish, I absolutely do that. This garlic rosemary roast chicken is divine. Seriously.
Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. When the chicken is all prepped and ready, place it in a roasting pan breast-side down. I add in a couple balls of scrap aluminum foil to help keep it from sliding around too much. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the chicken so that it is breast-side up. Increase the oven temperature to 450˚ F. Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the breast registers 160˚ F and in the thigh around 170˚ F, approximately 25-30 minutes*.
*Once again, I have to harp on the importance of using an instant read thermometer in your kitchen. To me this is an absolutely essential tool for cooking meat, poultry and seafood, and is also useful for baking and other confections. Depending on the size of your chicken, whether your oven runs a little warm or cool, and various other factors, the cooking time for roasting a chicken or other poultry can vary widely. Aiming for a specific temperature rather than cooking for a certain time ensures that the chicken will be well cooked without being dried out and also that it will not be undercooked and still pink inside. Mine generally take quite a bit longer than the time suggested in recipes so this really is crucial! I am in love with my Thermapen. It is a little pricey but totally worth the investment in my opinion, and it beats the pants off all the models I’ve tried in the past.
Once the chicken is cooked, cut the meat off of the bones and shred with two forks. Or, if you have a stand mixer, use this method. Mind blown, seriously. We tried it last week and it really works. Can’t believe how much time we could have saved by knowing about this sooner! I store the shredded chicken in freezer storage containers and then just use as needed. (See this post for more helpful freezer info.)
Now that you have your cooked chicken on hand, there is so much you can do with it. Use it to add some protein to salad, pizza, pasta, soup, risotto, quesadillas, etc. There are just so many possibilities! Here are some of my favorite recipes to make use of it:
Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa Casserole
Roast Chicken Wraps with Black Bean Salsa and Guacamole