Warning–really long post!
Whenever boneless, skinless chicken breasts are on sale for $1.99/lb or less, I stock up and do a big cooking session. When I did this with ground beef, I went over why I cook ahead and how it saves me time and money. Just to review, here are a couple of points:
- Original once-a-month cooking calls for a month's worth of groceries, recipes, and cooking. I've made this manageable for myself by focusing on one type of meat (chicken, ground beef, etc.) at a time.
- By sticking with one type of meat, I'm saving money because I'm doing the cooking when the meat is on sale instead of purchasing a month's worth of food no matter what it costs.
- If 10 lbs. seems like too much to you, just buy one “big pack” and start with that.
Where do I Start?
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts were on sale last week for $1.99/lb. Usually, I would wait until they go down to $1.69-1.79/lb, but my freezer was empty so I needed them now. I bought a little over 10 lbs. Again, I stick with that amount because I find it's the “right” amount for me; I get tired after working with raw chicken for an hour, and it's plenty to fill up the freezer and last me a month till the next sale.
With the chicken, I sat down with my recipe book and figured out which meals I wanted to have; that told me how much chicken I needed pre-cooked, cut into certain sizes, or to leave whole. My plan was for 10-12 meals' worth (I list the recipes below): 2 1/2 cups of pre-cooked chicken, 3 bags of uncooked fillets, 2 bags of diced uncooked chicken, a bag of uncooked bits for soup, and the rest for the crockpot meals.
What do I need?
Besides the chicken breasts, you’ll also need:
Garlic, I use the diced kind in a jar, but you could use fresh
Gallon-size zipper bags, Quart-size zipper bags
Sauce pot (to boil water and chicken)
Can of diced tomatoes, Crockpot (if you're making shredded chicken)
2 cutting boards (one for raw, one for cooked chicken), sharp knife
Paper towels and soap for LOTS of hand washing
- I opened the first package of chicken and took out 2 of the breasts, cutting them up a bit to fit better in the pot. I put them in a medium pot and added enough water to cover them, plus a big spoonful of garlic. I set it to boil for 10 minutes. While you're waiting…
- Add two of the chicken breasts to the Crockpot. Dump a can of diced tomatoes on top (with green chiles for mild, jalapenos for spicy). This should cook on low for 5-8 hours, high for 3-4 hours for shredded chicken. This will make shredded chicken tacos for tonight, then you can use the leftovers for another meal.
- Once the chicken breasts have boiled, drain them and let them cool on another (clean!) cutting board. Once they've cooled, you can dice them, then put them in a freezer bag. It's so handy to have cooked chicken on hand when to save you time cooking during the dinner hour. I list a few recipes below (Chicken & Broccoli Pie and the Chicken Vegetable Chowder), but you probably have a few recipes of your own that call for cooked chicken.
- Start slicing the other chicken breasts from the package(s). I try to slice them to make uniform breast pieces so that when I grill or saute them, they'll cook evenly. I put these pieces in individual zipper bags (one meal's worth in each bag), then I chop some of the chicken into smaller pieces for recipes like Stroganoff and Chicken, Pepper, and Potatoes (recipes below). These go into their own freezer bags as well.
- I collect all the little leftover bits in a bag for chicken soup. It's okay not to measure this, since I can stretch the chicken soup with veggies, or if I have a lot of chicken leftover, I'll make a double batch of soup. Soups are a great way to stretch meat of any kind, but especially expensive chicken. By adding bulk with vegetables, it's both healthier AND less expensive.
- Don’t forget to label your bags with the date and what’s in them.
- Freeze these bags flat, then you can stack them or store them upright like books and they’ll take up very little space. You can store these in a side-by-side freezer that way.
- It took me exactly an hour to process (cut and cook) 10 lbs of raw chicken, but that was with many kid interruptions.
- If I'd had more time, I would have cooked the chicken soup while I was doing the other tasks and just frozen it for later meals.
Since I do my meal planning each Monday, I know what days I need to take something out of the freezer to defrost. Make sure you defrost in the fridge for at least 24 hours (safety guidelines here).
- Chicken Breasts—I pull them out one day ahead to defrost, and often I'll add some Italian dressing or Balsamic Viniagrette to marinate the chicken before I grill or saute it.
- Crockpot Shredded Chicken—After slow-cooking the chicken with a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (you can also use jalapeno if you like it spicier), I shred the chicken with two forks. This makes a meal of chicken tacos, then I use the leftovers for Chicken & Spinach Quesadillas or Chicken Enchiladas.
- Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore—I'll take 1-2 of the chicken breasts, lay them in the crockpot with chopped onion, mushrooms, and green peppers, then top it with a jar of spaghetti sauce. Served with pasta, it's a very fast meal.
- Easy Cheesy Vegetable-Chicken Chowder—With the cooler weather, I'm excited to have soups again. This recipe is one of my family's favorites. Using the pre-cooked chicken, it's a very fast, savory meal.
- Chicken and Broccoli Pie—With the chicken pre-cooked, I just need to defrost it the night before and it makes prepping this meal even easier.
- Stroganoff-Style Chicken—this recipe is another family favorite. I prep the chicken by slicing up 3/4 lb. in its own bag. By thawing the night before, this is ready to go at dinnertime.
- Chicken, Peppers, and Potatoes—yet another easy recipe (now posted here). Again, I just cut up the 3/4 lb. that the recipe calls for and have it ready to defrost in its own bag.
- Chicken Soup—After slicing and dicing, I use all the little leftover bits of chicken to make chicken soup. We'll eat it one night for dinner, then I freeze the leftovers for a lunch or dinner on another day.
What are your thoughts?
Do you find the Cook Once, Eat 10 Times posts helpful? I'm working on a ground beef winter edition to include casseroles and soups now that the weather is getting cooler.