How many times do you get home from work and realize you didn’t prepare anything for supper? And everything you have that’s good for you on Keto is raw AND frozen? Please say it’s not just me! (Please!!)
The days that happens are the hardest ones! Hardest ones to stay on-plan, that is. At a certain point, I’d gnaw the leg off the dining room table on days like that. Let’s not let that happen, shall we? I’d get a stern look from The Commodore.
The easiest way I’ve found to keep those days at a minimum is to prepare for them. And one of the easiest proteins to have on hand is chicken breasts.
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Why Should I Prep Chicken Breasts?
One of the most versatile meats has got to be incredible edible chicken breasts! I love those boneless skinless babies and I SUPER love the big bone-in ones!
The other night I fixed one – ONE – frozen solid skinless boneless chicken breast in the Instant Pot and shredded it. I made 2 large quesadillas one night and used the rest with a pat of homemade Boursin cheese for a meal the next night. 2 nights, 2 meals, two grown-up people.
You might think that’s great but I’m really disappointed with myself.
See, I should have had that all done and in the freezer.
I’m a slacker.
Prepping that breast – or a bunch of them – and shredding or chopping or slicing in advance would have found me pulling the bag out of the freezer when I get The Commodore’s “On my way now” text and tossing it either in the microwave or into a bowl of hot water (still sealed, of course!) for a half hour. And feeling like Wonder Woman. The superhero, not the “I wonder where I left my keys” one.
What Kind of Chicken Should I Buy?
For this post, we’re going to concentrate on just chicken breasts.
Skinless Boneless Chicken Breasts
I like to buy the skinless boneless ones from Zaycon – they are HUGE – but you can only get them a few times a year. I can generally get 40 pounds for $1.69 to $1.89 per pound. Since I don’t always plan far enough ahead, I usually have to settle for the large pack at $1.99 lb in HEB or Walmart.
The boneless skinless ones are great in the Instant Pot, right from frozen. For one, I set it to manual for 12 minutes. 1 cup of water in the liner, breast on a trivet, overseasoned. (I find I need to overseason chicken in my Instant Pot – I think the flavor must squirt right out of the vent with the steam!!) I like to use a fairly neutral seasoning – salt, pepper, garlic powder – so I can use it for more dishes.
I let the cooking finish and have the pot sit until the button drops.
Sometimes I even throw the frozen boneless breasts in the slow cooker but I am sure to put a little water in the bottom and not crowd them. I set them on high for a couple of hours before turning down to low. I only do this on days when I’m having a Feed the Freezer Cooking Day and I’m not leaving the house.
If I’m using unfrozen breasts I feel better about leaving home for just a couple of hours.
Bone-in Skin-on Chicken Breasts
Honestly, the boneless skinless chicken breasts are a little bland in comparison to the ones with the bone and skin still intact. Every now and then I can get these babies for $1 lb!!
These are great in the slow cooker and the Instant Pot – the bones slide right out. I’m not crazy about the skin, though. If you’re doing Keto you can always slide the skin off and toss it into a frying pan to make a crispy snack.
My very favorite way to make the bone-in ones – for slicing and topping a salad – is to roast them at 350 degrees. The skin gets nice and crispy and the meat stays a little firmer so it’s easier to slice once they’ve cooled a bit. They seem to have a lot more flavor, too.
You’ll need to keep an eye on them and use a meat thermometer to be sure they are cooked properly – take them out of the oven at 155 degrees and let them sit for a few minutes – no less than 10 – for the residual cooking to continue. The safe temperature is 165 degrees.
PS – if you’re after a company worthy chicken meal check out How to Make Hasselback Chicken to Die For – With 7 Recipes!
Now You Can Prep These Bad Boys
I try to have a plan before I start, so if I’ve planned to have one to slice, one to shred, and one to chunk I’ll do three. It really all depends on my plan and how many breasts I have. Keep in mind that it’s just the two of us.
If I’m slicing one for salads, I let it cool. Same for the ones I’m chunking for chicken salad. Just enough to let the juices all settle back in and they get cool enough to handle – about 20 – 30 minutes – if you cut into them before they’ve cooled a little they’ll dry out.
If I’m shredding one or two – hold onto your britches because I’m about to rock your world!
I do not use two forks to shred.
I do not use ONE fork to shred.
I use ZERO forks to shred.
Let them cool for 10 minutes or so – so the juices settle – and toss them into your stand mixer with the paddle beater. Lock the head and turn it on the lowest speed setting and STAND THERE. It will shred nicely with a few larger chunks. Stop it when it’s the way you like – and it will happen QUICKLY. If you let it go too long it will be finely shredded. Seriously, I’m talking seconds. It goes from perfect to strands in a flash, so watch it! I only shred one at a time so I can monitor it easier.
If finely shredded is the way you want it, well then, you’re okay there too.
At this point I either bag them up in meal portions, label, squeeze out the air and let them cool before they go in the freezer. If I’m using them in the next few days they go in a container for the fridge after they’ve cooled.
Now, if you’re really on top of things, you’ll have had your containers out already and your bags labeled and ready to go. Perhaps I should have mentioned that!
Great. What Do I Do With All This Meat?!
Well, I’m glad you asked!
You know I like to just tell you plain cooking stuff – not really a recipe, just add as much as you like of this and that and hope you have something edible at the end.
I like to make Chicken Salad. A lot. Well, the truth is that The Commodore likes me to make Chicken Salad a lot. Sometimes I add a little finely chopped celery and Dukes Mayo – almost the way his Mommom made it except that she used Miracle Whip.
If I’m taking it to a gathering at Dangers Dad’s family, I sometimes mash up an avocado instead of using mayo at all. Here in Texas, it’s not two cars in every garage or a chicken in every pot. It’s “Eat All The Avocados”. Seriously, I’d never had one until we moved here 7 years ago and now I’m like “Where have you been all my life?” as I stuff my plastic bag full of them at the grocery store.
I also like to make Chicken Salad. That sounds a bit redundant, but hear me out. This one contains greenery of a sort unrelated to the kind you wrap around your banister and on the mantle at Christmas-time. Assemble your salad in any way you like and put some roasted chicken breast slice on top. Or chunk them up before you add them on top.
The shredded chicken is awesome on top of a bed of spinach with a few sunflower seeds sprinkled around, some feta cheese, and some bacon. Keep the grease in the pan and add a little mustard and red wine vinegar and a touch of sweetener to make a nice warm bacon dressing to pour over the top. If you don’t like that you could always drizzle a good olive oil over the shredded chicken. If you want an actual recipe, here’s one from Alton Brown for Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing – you can just put your chicken on top.
BBQ Chicken: Thaw out some shredded chicken overnight in the fridge. In the morning, add some low carb barbeque sauce to it so it has time to absorb the flavors for several hours before you’re ready to eat it.
You can always use the shredded or chunked chicken breasts for tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas (all with low carb tortillas) – really, anything that calls for cooked chicken. Add a little extra protein to your omelet or mix in with your scrambled eggs, too, or even a breakfast burrito.
And a Few Tips …
Put a breast or two in a freezer bag and add an on-plan marinade. They will marinate as they freeze AND as they thaw. If you cook it and don’t want to eat it (or all of it) you can freeze it. Yes, it’s safe to thaw meat, cook it, and then freeze it again. It’s actually no unsafe to refreeze thawed meat as long as it was thawed in the refrigerator. It may lose a little in quality but it isn’t unsafe – as long as you don’t wait 3 weeks to refreeze it.
If you’re planning on roasting the chicken, do it on a sheet pan and add some on-plan vegetables at the same time. You’re already using the oven, so why not?
Some Actual Recipes to Use These Chicken Breasts
Because I know some of you want them, right! Here ya go!
I like the number 7 – it’s the biblical number of completion – so you’ll find 7 “real” recipes in this post plus my own instructions and ideas that I do without measuring anything.
You can use diced or shredded chicken for this awesome Cheesy Chicken Pepper Broccoli Fritatta from Well Plated. I’d love to share her photo because it’s so drool-worthy but she prefers I not do so – so go over to her site and lick your screen!! Her site is not a Keto focused site but this recipe fits the bill perfectly.
When you feel like crud all you want is a cup of chicken noodle soup. Well, traditional noodles are out but you can still make soul-soothing chicken soup in about 25 minutes with this Leftover Turkey (or Chicken) Soup from Simply So Healthy. Almost makes me hope for a cold!
You just realized you have a potluck and haven’t really thought much about it and now it’s here. If you have shredded chicken ready in the freezer you are halfway to Low Carb Buffalo Chicken Dip from Step Away From The Carbs. You could mix this up from ingredients you most likely already have in the time it takes to preheat your oven! Make sure to use a low carb chip or (if you have time) make your own Keto Bagels, slice them into rounds and toast them in the oven and you’re all set.
I mentioned quesadillas earlier and here is a great recipe for Low Carb Chicken and Cheese Quesadillas from Seasonly Creations. It includes a recipe for the tortillas so don’t fret if you don’t have any on hand.
This recipe from Wholesome Yum is EXACTLY the kind of dish I had in mind when I started writing this post. Sure, the others may be quick, but this one is so ‘stick to your ribs without expanding your gut’ that I knew I had to include it! It’s Chicken Bacon Ranch Casserole – what’s not to love with that?
My Montana Kitchen has an awesome blog – if you’re after dishes that fit into Trim Healthy Mama, she has ’em! The great thing about THM is that the S recipes are great for low carb and Keto with an adjustment – sometimes – of a bit of added fat. Their E dishes are perfect if you do carb ups a la Healthful Pursuit. Here is Low Carb Alfredo Chicken Casserole that you can put together quick – you could even put it together in the morning (in 5 minutes!) and toss it in the oven – gently, of course – when you get home in the evening.
There you go – 7 great recipes to try with pre-prepared shredded or chunked chicken breasts to make dinner easier!
If/When your budget can handle it, here are a few cookbooks to make it more interesting: