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Chicken for Dinner

by Sidney Carlisle

It's always nice to have cooked chicken in the freezer to use for a quick dinner. Perhaps it's left over from the holidays or another meal. Or better yet, maybe you are an incredibly organized person who plans ahead, cooks ahead, and can always pull a meal right out of the freezer. Me neither. Frozen cooked chicken, however, can solve many a week-night dinner dilemma with a minimum of fuss.

A bit of planning is required, but with a little time on a Saturday morning, you can prepare enough chicken for at least a couple of meals. Start by purchasing a package of four chicken breasts with ribs. (If you have a big stock pot, cook 8 at a time.) Although boneless skinless breasts will cook in less time, bone-in breasts will yield a larger quantity of tastier chicken, and the broth will have a better flavor, too.

Rinse the chicken, place in the stock pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and skim off any foam or particles. Lower the heat to a simmer. Add half an onion cut in chunks and a rib of sliced celery. A carrot is nice, if you have one. Add a little salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered until the chicken is tender when pierced with a fork, about 1-1/2 hours.

Let the meat cool until it can be handled. Remove from the bone in bite-sized pieces. There will be about one cup of meat per chicken breast. Wrap the meat from each breast separately, so that you end up with one cup portions. That way you'll always know how much chicken you have on hand and can defrost what's needed.

Strain the broth and discard the vegetables. The fat can be removed with a gravy separator, or if one isn't available, place the broth in the refrigerator. The fat will congeal on the surface and can be removed and discarded. Freeze the broth for future use.

So now that the freezer is stocked with cooked chicken, what's next? Here are three tried and true chicken recipes. All may be prepared with items that can be kept on the pantry shelf or in the refrigerator. The first recipe is cooked in a crock-pot, and the other two go together quickly for an evening meal. If the chicken is frozen, zap it in the microwave or defrost for a couple of minutes until it's partially thawed.

Crock-Pot Chicken 'n Tortillas is an adaptation of King Ranch Chicken, an old Texas recipe that tastes like spicy chicken enchiladas. This is an easy recipe and with the addition of a fruit or green salad makes a nice dinner any time of year. The Chicken and Okra Gumbo is also quick and easy, and hot cornbread or crusty French bread will complete the meal. The last recipe is a favorite at my house, and I've probably prepared it at least 50 times. I'll bet you won't have any leftovers.

Crock-Pot Chicken 'N Tortillas

  • 10 corn tortillas
  • 1 can (10 ounce) Rotel tomatoes and green chilies
  • 1 can (10 ounce) cream of chicken soup
  • 3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Spray the inside of the crock-pot with non-stick cooking spray. Cut all the tortillas in half and then in half again. Set aside. Combine the Rotel tomatoes and the chicken soup in a bowl, whisking until well blended.

To assemble, layer half the tortilla pieces in the crock-pot. Add half the chicken and half the onion. Add salt and pepper. Spoon half the Rotel mixture on top of the chicken. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Repeat the layers, ending with cheese on top. Cover the crock-pot and cook on Low 6 to 8 hours, or about 3 hours on High. Yields four servings.

Chicken and Okra Gumbo

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large can (28 ounce) whole tomatoes
  • 1 can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies
  • 1 can (16 ounce) okra, or okra with tomatoes
  • 3-1/2 cups chicken broth (or two 14-ounce cans chicken broth)
  • 1-3/4 cups water
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cut in bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup regular rice (not Minute Rice)
Use a large stockpot or saucepan. Combine the onion, tomatoes, Rotel, okra, chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken and rice. Bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to simmering and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot. Yields four generous servings. Leftovers reheat well.

[See also David Bulla's full article on Gumbo: The Basics.]

Poppy Seed Chicken

  • 4 cups cooked chicken, cut in bite-size pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 carton (8 ounce) sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
  • 1 stick butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a medium-size baking dish with non-stick spray. Arrange the chicken in the dish. Add salt and pepper. Combine the soup, sour cream and poppy seeds. Spoon over the chicken, smoothing with a spoon to cover the chicken. Sprinkle with the cracker crumbs. Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs. Bake uncovered about 25 minutes, until bubbly. Yields four servings.

Sidney Carlisle lives on a ranch in Meridian, Texas.

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