Chicken is, according to the USDA, the number one meat for American tables. With a slow cooker, you can prepare plenty of chicken breasts for later use or to serve a large group of people. Once the meat is cooked you can finish it in a dozen different ways from shredding and briefly grilling it to cubing for pasta and casseroles or preparing the chicken with a sauce or glaze. Slow cooking as well as using multi cookers like the Instant Pot beats oven preparation because it keeps the chicken moist and tender.
Preparing Chicken for the Week Ahead
The easiest way to prepare chicken for multiple uses is to season it simply using salt and pepper or garlic powder. That way, a bit of flavor is infused during cooking. Looking ahead, you can prepare meat for Mexican dishes with taco seasoning, use a few fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary for savory dishes, or add paprika for a bit of bite in your meals. You can refrigerate overnight for tomorrow’s meal, but for best taste and food safety, the USDA says prompt freezing gives you up to six months’ storage, four for leftovers. Make sure to mark each storage container with the date frozen and any flavor added.
Raw Chicken Breasts for the Pot
All chicken breasts are not the same. You’ll find moderate-sized ones which make excellent servings and huge ones which need to be divided down before cooking. You’ll find that these variations depend on the type of store where you buy them and the origins of the meat such as large companies or organic farms. Of course, you can also use chicken breast fillets or other precut shapes. Use two to three pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts for one batch, arranged in a layer on the bottom of the pot.
Slow Cooker Settings
Use the low setting on your slow cooker or Crockpot and cook the meat for about three hours. It’s important that each piece reach 165 degrees F internally so that you know everything has been thoroughly cooked. Even if you later do a bit of finish cooking on a grill or in a casserole, the chicken should be safe to eat when you take it out of the pot and on to its destination. For a single layer of meat in the pot, no additional liquid is necessary.
Multi Cooker or Instant Pot Settings
For Instant Pot cooking, use a cup of chicken broth along with salt and pepper or garlic, or any of the other seasoning choices mentioned for slow cooking. Tighten the valve and cook on the pressure cooker setting for approximately 6 minutes to prepare all the chicken you need for tonight and some to set aside in the freezer. Browning beforehand on the appropriate setting helps seal in flavor.
Grilled Chicken Finishing Step
Cooked or defrosted chicken breast from a previous batch can be finished with grill marks and heated on the BBQ grill or on a stovetop grilling pan for an appealing visual presentation. You can also use the grilling pan to finish breasts before freezing if you like.
Glazed Chicken and Sauces
Use serving size chicken breasts precooked or defrosted in the refrigerator overnight for a quick meal with store-bought or homemade sauces. Use your favorite sweet and sour sauce or honey mustard or serve with gravy along with a starch like mashed potato or egg noodles and a fresh vegetable side.
Use pre-seasoned chicken breasts or season and shred at the same time after overnight defrosting for a quick taco night filling. Shred only just before preparing to make your favorite recipe. You can also use barbecue sauce to create a tasty BBQ chicken entree or sandwich filling.
Pasta with Chicken
Cut breasts into bite-sized pieces and mix with pasta and sauce for a quick alfredo or tomato pasta meal. Add fresh or frozen veggies and a side of garlic bread to complete the meal. Cubes can also be frozen so the kids can make dinner when parent are tired and hungry.
Chicken Kabobs on the Grill
Chicken breast can be pre-cut into kabobs before freezing then defrosted overnight and used on the grill, cooked only enough to warm and place grill marks. You can marinate cooked cubes or use a sauce from the wide selection at most grocery stores or your own invention. Use two skewers to prevent spinning of pieces.
Fridge or Freeze? Storing Slow-Cooked Chicken
USDA guidelines say four months for leftovers, six months for freshly cooked chicken in the freezer. Organize chicken by placing individual breasts in plastic sealed bags with the air removed as much as possible or package family-size portions which will be defrosted together. Refrigerating overnight for preparation the next day works well. Defrost by storing in the fridge overnight if you have time for better flavor and texture than microwave defrosting.