How To Meal Prep Chicken
Chicken is a very versatile ingredient, a great source of protein and an excellent flavour carrier. However, it does take time to prepare and cook, and it needs to be prepared and cooked carefully due to the risk of food poisoning. Cooking chicken in advance can therefore be a real time-saver. However, people are often unsure about how to meal prep chicken.
Can You Meal Prep Chicken?
Chicken does need to be cooked carefully and thoroughly, but it is actually surprisingly well-suited to meal prepping. Provided that food hygiene rules are followed, chicken can be cooked through in an oven or pan, then either chilled or frozen and used when required.
The Benefits Of Pre-Cooking Chicken
- Time-saving. Some of the methods of cooking chicken that achieve the best results take a considerable amount of time. Frying, baking and roasting chicken can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the size of the pieces. Cooked chicken, on the other hand, can be reheated in a matter of minutes. This is particularly helpful on busy weekday evenings when time is short.
- Clearing up. Cooking chicken can create quite a lot of clearing up: chopping boards, knives and pans need to be thoroughly cleaned after use. By pre-cooking chicken, these time-consuming tasks can be accomplished in advance when time is plentiful, and the cooked chicken can be quickly and easily added to meals, saving on washing up.
- Efficiency. Cooking large quantities of chicken in advance is much more efficient than cooking just enough for one meal. Preparing and cooking larger quantities does not necessarily take much longer, and the clearing-up time is also likely to be similar. It makes sense to do these tasks once – perhaps at the start of the week – rather than every day.
- Interesting recipes. Cooking chicken takes time and effort. When making interesting recipes, such as curries and stir-fries, it can be really helpful to have pre-cooked chicken ready to throw in the pan. This means that more time and attention can be given to other components, such as sauces and side-dishes.
- Versatility and flexibility. Chicken can be pre-cooked in a number of different ways. This means that different sorts of chicken – from slices of roast chicken to fried chicken – can be prepared in advance. Pre-cooked chicken can be added to all sorts of recipes. Risottos, pasta bakes, curries and pies all work particularly well. As long as food hygiene rules are adhered to, the list of recipes is practically limitless. Pre-cooking chicken also means that only the required amount need be added when putting together the finished meal: a great way of saving money and avoiding food waste.
What Is The Best Way To Meal Prep Chicken
There are several options when deciding how to meal prep chicken, but perhaps the simplest and easiest is roasting. A whole chicken can be cooked in a roasting tray in the oven. This is likely to take from 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the chicken. After cooking, the tender breast meat can be sliced off and set aside before all remaining pieces of meat are gently pulled off the bone. The meat can be chilled or frozen and then added to recipes when required. The advantages of this method are that it is very low-effort and is also usually the cheapest way of buying chicken. Alternatively, the chicken can be slow-roasted in a slow cooker. Roasting produces succulent, tender meat and keeps all the goodness in the meat.
Baking is a similar approach that works well for pre-cooking chicken that has been bought as breasts or thighs. The process is similar but these smaller cuts of meat will take less time to cook than a whole chicken: perhaps as little as 40 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. When baking chicken, it is important to make sure it is cooked through but not to cook it for so long that it dries out. The cooked pieces can be chilled or frozen whole or further sliced or diced after cooking.
Other cooking methods, such as shallow frying, can also be used for pre-cooking chicken, but are likely to be less efficient than roasting or baking.
Regardless of how the chicken is cooked, it needs to be carefully chilled or frozen and then properly reheated to minimise the risk of food poisoning. Cooked chicken should be cooled quickly at room temperature and then put in the fridge or freezer before bacteria have time to grow. It should be kept in a labelled, airtight container or bag. The fridge or freezer must be an appropriate temperature – a fridge thermometer can be very helpful. Pre-cooked chicken can be eaten cold (for example in a sandwich or picnic) but if it is heated, it must be properly cooked through. If pre-cooked chicken is frozen, it must be thoroughly defrosted in a fridge before use and then used quickly. Alternatively, it can be defrosted in a microwave, but it must then be used immediately. Meals made with pre-cooked chicken that has been frozen should not be re-frozen.
Other Cooking Options For Chicken
Roasting, baking and shallow frying are excellent methods for pre-cooking chicken. However, these techniques can also be used when cooking chicken at the same time as the rest of a meal. Chicken can be cooked in other ways too: it works well in stir-fries and casseroles and can even be grilled, sautéed, poached (a very healthy technique) or deep-fried (much less healthy!).
How Long After Cooking Chicken Is It Safe To Eat?
Food safety is very important when dealing with chicken due to the risk of food poisoning. Local food hygiene regulations and guidelines must always be followed. In order to be safe to eat, chicken must be prepared, cooked and stored safely and used within an appropriate timeframe. Pre-cooked chicken can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days before being used in a meal or eaten. It can be kept in the freezer for 3 to 6 months.