How to Batch Cook Chicken

Batch cook chicken to take advantage of sales of frozen meat

Washed fresh boneless chicken ready for cooking curry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently went shopping at my local discount grocery store and found an incredible deal. Family size packages of boneless, skinless chicken thighs for under a dollar per pound. That’s half price for boneless thighs and roughly the price for bone-in chicken thighs. There was only one catch. The packages were already frozen. When I got home, it was time to batch cook chicken.

Normally, you buy meat out of refrigerated coolers. Sure, you can buy the bag of frozen chicken breasts or cutlets, but they can be as much as 50% more expensive than refrigerated breasts. I’m not willing to pay that big of a surcharge for the convenience of not separating my own meat. And they don’t sell frozen thighs. Because of America’s infatuation with white meat over dark, over 55% of chicken sold in the US is white meat. That drives up the price and makes dark meat cheaper by comparison. At my local King Soopers, skinless, boneless breasts cost $2.79 and boneless, skinless thighs cost $1.99. By switching to dark meat, we’re saving nearly 30% on chicken!

So normally I get refrigerated meat, separate it into individual servings, wrap it up and stick it in the freezer. But this meat was already frozen. I don’t know if the cooler got too cold or if it was done on purpose to extend the life of the meat. This was a discount grocery, after all.

Can you Re-freeze meat?

You can’t thaw out meat and refreeze it.  That was what I was told growing up. Turns out that this advice is wrong. Or, at least, it’s not right. You can defrost and refreeze meat, but it affects the quality and does increase the risk of spoilage. So you can, but you probably shouldn’t.

One way around this is to cook the meat before freezing it again. That’s been how my family has dealt with the refreezing meat issue for as long as I can remember. But how the heck to you cook 10lbs of raw chicken?

You can batch cook chicken a variety of ways to cook it all at once and then wrap up individual servings to freeze.

Batch cook chicken on the grill

One way to cook chicken in bulk is on the grill. Batch cooking chicken on the grill is straight-forward and you’ve probably done something similar in the past without even realizing it.

Can't claim credit for this cooking, my friend...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever had a summer barbeque where you cooked chicken? Maybe it was BBQ chicken leg quarters, grilling wings for Buffalo wings,  or chicken kabobs. If you’ve done this, then you’ve already used your grill to batch cook chicken. You were just planning on using it all at once instead of over several meals.

Now, if you have a lot of meat to cook and a small grill, you may have to do this in batches. Place as much chicken on the hot grill as will fit without crowding. If you have more raw chicken to cook, put it back in the refrigerator, covered, until you are done with the first batch.

Cook the chicken for 5-10 minutes per side, depending on the meat thickness and grill temperature. Flip, cook for additional 5-10 minutes and remove from heat.

Batch cook chicken by baking

Another popular method to cook chicken, and especially to batch cook chicken is by baking it. Personally, I’m not a fan. Baking meat tends to dry it out, especially meats that are lower in fat, like chicken. Normally, baked chicken breasts are smothered in a sauce. But when batch cooking chicken, you are probably going to use it for a variety of different meals and want to give it different flavors.

If you do decide to go this route, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the chicken in a baking pan, leaving at least 1″ spacing between the pieces of meat. If you have multiple baking pans, you can fit as many as you can in the oven as long as the pans aren’t touching. Cook for 20-30 minutes.

Batch cook chicken by poaching

This is how I batch cooked my chicken. Poaching chicken gets a bad rap. Many people claim that poached chicken has no flavor. This reminds me of the people who say that they only like broccoli when it is covered in cheese sauce. They don’t like broccoli, they like cheese! Poached chicken tastes like chicken. A marinated, grilled chicken breast or a sauteed thigh doesn’t taste like chicken; it taste like the liquid it was cooked in.

Besides, the neutral flavor of poached chicken is perfect for batch cooking. After it is cooked, you can season the meat any way you need for a particular recipe.

To batch cook chicken by poaching, you are going to need a large pot. A really large pot. I used a large stock pot to cook my 10lbs of meat. And I needed it. If you are only cooking one family size package of meat, you can get away with a smaller pan. For a single breast, you can poach in a large saucepan.

Add 1 can of chicken broth, 1 gallon of water, a quarter cup of garlic powder, a tablespoon of salt, and a tablespoon of ground pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil. Depending on the power of your stove, this could take a while.  It took nearly half an hour for my  poaching liquid to come to a rolling boil.

Once the water is boiling, add your chicken. Use a spoon to stir it around to make sure the chicken isn’t sticking to each other too much. When the water comes to a boil again, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and drain the water in a large colander. Depending on how much chicken you cooked, you may have to dump some out, transfer the drained chicken to a large bowl, and dump more into the colander.

A note on freezing batch cooked chicken and other foods

Don’t transfer your freshly cooked food to the freezer immediately. If you put hot food in the freezer, it will raise the temperature inside the freezer. Not only does this make the freezer work harder and use more power, but it can also thaw out food that is nearby. I’ve already discussed the issue of defrosting and refreezing meat, but ice cream that has thawed and refrozen isn’t pleasant to eat either.

Instead, cover the chicken and put it in the refrigerator over night. The next day, you can take it out and wrap it into individual servings and freeze.

Do you batch cook chicken? What is the largest amount you have cooked at once?

How to Turn Simple Boxed Meals into a Gourmet Dish

Macaroni & cheese is one of my favorite dishes of all time. I would consider it to be my mother’s signature dish. It certainly ruined me for simple boxed macaroni & cheese, like the ubiquitous blue boxes of Kraft that was in everybody’s dorm rooms. Of course, the problem with my favorite baked macaroni & cheese meal is that it takes over an hour and a half to prepare from shredding the cheese and boiling the macaroni, to creating the cheese sauce from just 5 ingredients, to baking the entire thing to create a golden brown crust. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to turn simple boxed meals like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese into gourmet dishes. Kraft mac & cheese is a popular example of a box meal that can be turned gourmet with some simple additions Chances are, you’ve already done this without really realizing it. Have you ever had hot dogs in mac & cheese? I have a friend who, in high school, knew how to prepare just one meal: microwaved hot dogs that were then cut up and mixed into some Kraft macaroni & cheese. Over the weekend, I discovered that both of my roommates have done this as well. It seems that hot-dog mac & cheese is a time-honored student culinary tradition. Now hot dogs are all well and good, but they aren’t exactly my favorite protein source on the planet. Especially when they are cooked any other way than grilled. As such, I’m more likely to use lunch-meat. But if you want to go fancier, the sky is the limit. This past weekend, I fried up some bacon and crumbled it up to mix it in with the mac & cheese. As Kristin from Dizzy, Busy, and Hungry recently mentioned, us guys tend to like adding bacon to stuff. Witness the existence of bacon milk-shakes and bacon ice cream! And that is the secret right there for turning boxed meals into a gourmet dish. Simply take something that doesn’t come with the box and mix it in. Use your creativity and think of what flavors you like that would pair well with cheese. Pasta itself has a rather neutral flavor, so you really don’t need to worry about conflicting with that. Just pair stuff with the cheese. Here are some ideas of foods that pair well with cheese and can be used as an addition to boxed meals such as macaroni & cheese:

  • Meat – Can be beef, pork, or poultry. I’m not sure how well fish would go with cheese.
  • Salsa – Give your mac & cheese a south of the border flair by adding a quarter cup of your favorite red salsa. Salsa verde would work too, but a tomato salsa will give it that extra *POP*
  • Veggies – Who doesn’t love vegetables slathered in cheese sauce? Steam or microwave your favorite veg and mix it in.
  • Taco Seasoning – Here’s a bit of a preview of a recipe I’ll be sharing in the future. Cook up some meat with your favorite taco seasoning (your favorite is mine, right?) and mix it in, or stir some of that Tex-Mex flavor right into the gooey goodness of your mac & cheese.
  • Breadcrumbs – This one isn’t so much of a stir-in, but an topping. Top with breadcrumbs or even crushed-up bits of crackers and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes before eating.

Goldfish cracker-crusted Bacon Macaroni & Cheese

I got the idea to use Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers as a crust from some other food blog. If I had realized that I was going to be stealing the idea, I would have bookmarked it for attribution. Attention food bloggers: if I got this idea from you, let me know and I will link back to you! Goldfish creacker-crusted bacon macaroni & cheese After deciding to use Goldfish, I figured I should mix in some sort of meat as well. Bacon was a good choice due to the smoky flavor which provided a nice counterpoint to the cheese. Besides, bacon is big and I wanted to get in on the bacon-bandwagon!

4.3 from 4 reviews
Goldfish-crusted Bacon Macaroni & Cheese
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This recipe uses a simple boxed meal of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese to create a gourmet lunch by adding bacon and Goldfish crackers.
Author:
Recipe type: Lunch
Cuisine: American
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 box Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
  • ¼ c. milk
  • ¼ c. butter
  • ¼ c. Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook bacon until crispy and set aside to cool.
  3. In medium pot, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add macaroni from the box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Cook for 9 minutes until noodles are al-dente (not quite tender). Drain and return to pot.
  4. Crumble or chop bacon into small pieces. Stir into macaroni & cheese mixture. Spoon mixture into 2 oven safe bowls or a small casserole dish.
  5. Using a food processor, chop Goldfish crackers until they are crumbs with some chunks. Pour cracker crumbs over macaroni & cheese.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes until crackers begin to brown
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 3 cups Calories: 765 Fat: 35 Saturated fat: 3 Carbohydrates: 97 Sugar: 11 Sodium: 1175 Fiber: 3 Protein: 27 Cholesterol: 415

To reduce the sodium, you could try using a low-sodium bacon or turkey bacon. For calories and fat, my best recommendation is to use low-fat or skim milk. But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a health food and no amount of trying is going to make it good for you. This reminder is similar to a rant on BlogHer about ridiculous food trends. If a food isn’t healthy at a fundamental level, then there is only so much lipstick you can put on a pig.

What are your favorite boxed meals? What do you like to mix into simple boxed meals to give them a gourmet flair?


How to Carve Prime Rib

Standing Rib Roast

Standing Rib Roast (Photo credit: Another Pint Please…)

Another Christmas has come and gone. Along with some awesome gifts, Also learned a new skill: how to carve a prime rib. My wife’s family has prime rib for Chrsitmas dinner. My family always had ham. The prime rib that it took to feed 7 adults and 4 children, plus have some leftovers, cost $177; no wonder my family had ham! But this year, my father-in-law asked me to carve the rib. My only problem: I’d never done it before! Heck, I’ve only ever eaten prime rib a few times!

It probably all started last year at Thanksgiving. For the first time ever, we had the in-laws over for Thanksgiving dinner. Naturally it fell on me to carve the turkey. I hadn’t actually ever carved a turkey before, but I did have about 3 decades experience watching the Thanksgiving bird getting carved. I may have also watched a cooking show, or ten, that explained how to cut into that perfectly cooked turkey. So I was relatively prepared. Apparently, I did a good job, because when we had Thanksgiving dinner at their place this year, I was asked again to cut the bird.

Then came Christmas and the annual Olson-family prime rib feast. Apparently two successful turkey carvings makes me the de-facto meat carver for the family. As the side dishes were getting finished up and plated, I was informed that I would be carving the roast.

In the words of Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap: oh boy.

This $177 prime rib deserved to be carved properly

At $177, I didn’t want to ruin this roast by carving it wrong!

So I did what any self-respecting thirty-something American male would do in that situation. I pulled out my phone and I googled “how to carve prime rib.” This result from Saveur.com was able to save the day and get me through my first ever prime-rib carving. But now that I’ve done it once, I’m an expert (at least by the logic of that first Turkey!).  So I’ll explain the process of carving a prime rib here.

How to Carve Prime Rib

1) The proper equipment & set-up

To get started, you are going to need a carving knife, platter, and fork. Many people use an electric carving knife, but I prefer hand tools myself. If a sharp knife doesn’t just about glide through the meat, it’s probably overcooked.

Often overlooked is the height of the workstation. In the in-laws’ galley kitchen, I was forced to carve from a breakfast bar counter. It was just a bit high for my 5’8″ body to work comfortably from. If you are shorter like I am, a better idea would be to move the roast to the dining room table and work from there. My kitchen table is probably a foot lower than my counters!

2) Give yourself a flat bottom for stability

No matter what you are putting a knife into, whether it is a roast or an onion, it is going to be easier to work if you have a flat surface for stability. For fruits and vegetables, you generally just cut it in half and chop each half. For meat, that really isn’t going to work that well.

Instead, carve a single, thick cut slice off one end. If the roast is sitting on the ribs, cut the slice off one of the sides. The end cut of the prime rib is my favorite piece so I hide this slice from the others and put it on my own plate!

3) Position the roast

This next step is going to depend on whether you are right handed or left handed. If you are a righty, turn the roast over so it is cut side down and the bones are on the left. This will let you cut from the right. If you are a southpaw, reverse this. Position the meat so that the ribs are to your right, allowing you to cut from your left.

4) Carve Away

Stick the serving fork into the roast and use your non-carving hand to hold the meat in place. Aim the knife the desired thickness from the edge. Personally, I like a half-inch thick slice of prime rib. Use steady downward pressure and saw back-and-forth through the meat until you reach the bottom. Transfer the slice to serving platter and repeat until the remainder of the roast has been carved.

How did you learn to carve meat? Do you have any other tips for carving prime rib?