Chicken is a nearly perfect food. You can cook it by almost any method, flavor it with mellow herbs or fiery spices, and eat it hot or cold – and it’s always delicious and satisfying.
Leftover chicken is just as good (and sometimes better) when incorporated into other recipes. To free up time on weekends, during the week cook a whole chicken – or two, if they’re small – and use the extra chicken for quick Saturday and Sunday meals. Watch for more upcoming BigOven ideas on creative ways to use extra beef, pork, fish, and seafood.
Both light and dark meat chicken can be easily recycled. Extra light meat holds its shape better in recipes; dark meat imparts a richer flavor to dishes. Many dishes are best with a mixture of the two, which adds flavor levels and assorted textures.
1. Appetizers and Snacks. Lettuce cups make an elegant first course in which you can flavor the chicken with curry or tarragon, mix it with fruit or vegetables, and toss all the filling ingredients with a light dressing. Spread flour tortillas with your favorite condiment, top with shredded chicken, julienned carrots and celery, roll up, and slice crosswise into bite-size pinwheels. Arrange freshly made or store-bought tortilla chips on a heatproof platter. Top with cubed or shredded chicken, salsa, shredded jack or cheddar cheese and broil until the cheese melts down through the layers. Add a few dollops of sour cream and sprinkle with chopped scallions for a satisfying nacho snack.
2. Salads. Use leftover chicken to convert a simple mixed green salad into a meal or build a salad around the chicken. Caesar salad is especially good topped with chunked or shredded chicken or use grilled chicken in a salad with a Southwestern flair. Chinese chicken salad is a refreshing change of pace that highlights crunchy chow mein noodles and Asian spices.
3. Soups and Stews. If you have leftover whole roasted chicken, it’s simple to turn it into a hearty soup. Pick all the meat off the carcass, reserving the skin as well as the bones. Break up the carcass and place it with the skin (for richness) in a pot large enough to easily cover the contents with water. Toss a couple of bay leaves in the pot for extra flavor. Bring it to a simmer and cook for several hours until the broth is golden. Strain the liquid through a sieve. Return the meat to the pot along with your choice of seasonings, noodles, rice, fresh or frozen vegetables and –voila! – you have soup. To make chicken and dumplings, add the chicken and vegetables to the pot and top with dumplings. Steam until done, being careful not to lift the lid, which makes the dumplings doughy.
4. Sandwiches. Chop chilled chicken into small pieces and combine it with minced scallions, capers, and a tablespoon each of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise to make a tasty chicken salad sandwich filling. Treat yourself to a classic club sandwich by layering sliced chicken, crisp bacon, sliced tomatoes, and lettuce leaves in between three slices of lightly toasted white bread spread with mayonnaise. If you want a soothing hot sandwich on a chilly day, create an open-faced, diner-style “blue plate special” with sliced chicken on white bread or biscuit halves served alongside a scoop of mashed potatoes and slathered with jarred or homemade chicken gravy. Another hot chicken sandwich is simply made by mixing shredded chicken with jarred pimentos and diluted cream of mushroom soup. Simmer until thick, season with salt and pepper, and pile on crusty hoagie or hamburger buns.
5. Casseroles. Combine diced or shredded chicken with cooked rice or noodles and bind with cream of chicken soup, milk, shredded cheese and thawed frozen peas and carrots. Place in a casserole dish and bake at 350F until hot and bubbly. For a lighter dish, layer chicken and broccoli in a buttered casserole dish, top with a packaged or homemade low-fat cheese sauce and bake until the broccoli is fork-tender.
6. Pasta. You can transform a simple fettuccine Alfredo into a showstopper with chunks of chicken breast gently warmed and served on top of the pasta. Instead of spaghetti and meat sauce made with beef, substitute shredded chicken in the sauce.
7. Mexican Entrees. Since many Mexican entrée recipes call for cooked chicken, they are the perfect way to use up leftover chicken. Tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, tostados, and burritos are all enhanced by cooked chicken spiced with a bit of cumin, cilantro, and salsa. Tortilla soup with shredded chicken is a hearty main course.
8. Asian Entrees. Stir-fry snow pea pods, bean sprouts, julienned carrots, shredded cabbage, freshly grated ginger and your favorite Asian sauces and seasonings until crisp-tender. Add chunks of cooked chicken heat and through before serving alongside rice or noodles. Make a quick fried rice lunch or snack with leftover rice mixed with chopped scallions, diced cooked vegetables, cooked chicken chunks and seasonings. For extra richness, finish it off with a beaten egg mixed in right at the end of cooking.
9. Italian Entrees. For easy chicken Parmesan, layer pieces of cooked chicken, sliced provolone, and sautéed mushrooms in a long, shallow baking dish and cover with red spaghetti sauce. Top with lots of freshly grated Parmesan and pieces of fresh mozzarella and bake in a 350F oven until the cheese melts and the sauce bubbles around the edges. Serve with pasta on the side. Make a fast chicken cacciatore with large pieces of leftover chicken breast gently heated in the microwave and topped with a hearty cacciatore sauce packed with mushrooms, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and Italian spices.
10. Broth and Stock. Many recipes require chicken broth or stock, which you usually purchase in cans or boxes. Homemade versions have more flavor and save money. Make large batches of chicken broth and stock from the bones and skin of leftover roast chicken and freeze part in freezer-safe jars and the rest in ice cube trays to make it easy to add a few tablespoons of broth to certain dishes without thawing out large amounts.
To easily schedule leftover chicken meals, use BigOven’s menu planner. It not only organizes all your meals throughout the week but also generates shopping lists so you’ll be sure to have all the necessary ingredients on hand when you start to cook.
Tip: Try BigOven's handy Use up Leftovers tool -- just enter 3 ingredients from your fridge or pantry, and BigOven will suggest ways to use it up!