Several of my recipes call for “cooked chicken,” and how annoying is it to have all of the other ingredients ready, but have raw chicken instead of cooked?! It can sabotage your whole meal!
Cooking chicken ahead of time can be one of the easiest tasks you do. With the amount of cooking that I do, I usually pre-cook chicken once a month. Some of it I use immediately, but most I end up measuring and freezing in ziploc bags. And since it’s done in the crockpot, it’s one of the easiest meal preparations I do!
1. Start by deciding how much chicken you want to pre-cook. One chicken breast equals roughly 1 – 1 1/2 cups of cooked and shredded/cubed chicken. I usually pre-cook 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts at a time, which is enough for 2-3 recipes that call for pre-cooked chicken. You may find that you need to cook more chicken than that at a time, or more often than once a month, depending on how many mouths you’re feeding.
2. Before adding the chicken to the crockpot, trim off as much fat as you can. To help the chicken cook faster, sometimes I cut each chicken breast into 2-3 smaller pieces.
Put the chicken in the crockpot with NO additional liquid! Some ladies have told me their chicken-cooking woes, and their problems usually stem from the fact that they add chicken broth or water to the crockpot. Don’t! The chicken juices will cook out and keep the chicken moist while it cooks.
Sometimes I opt to add a savory ingredient, like half of an onion cubed or fresh minced garlic. This adds flavor to the chicken while it cooks and can either be kept/cooked with the finished chicken or discarded. Just keep in mind that if you opt, for example, to keep the minced garlic mixed in with the chicken, you can alter the amount or eliminate the garlic in whatever recipe you make with the chicken.
3. Add chicken to crockpot; turn on low. Cook for 4-6 hours, or until you check and the inside is no longer pink.
4. Remove all chicken breasts and place on a cutting board. You’ll see that there is liquid remaining in the crockpot with bits of white “goop.” Use a fork or slotted spoon to dish out the bulk of the goop.
5. Shred or cube the chicken breasts, removing any additional goop that may have clung to the chicken. Return the shredded/cubed chicken to the crockpot with liquid. Why? Because the crockpot is full of the liquid that cooked OUT of the chicken. If you use the chicken without allowing it to soak up some of its own juices, you will find that the dish you make with the cooked chicken will have a dryness to it because the dry chicken will soak up whatever moisture it can, and will often end up drying out the dish. By allowing the chicken to soak up its juices, you release it from its thirsty state, so the chicken can be a neutral ingredient, not a parasitic ingredient that will suck the moisture out of the other ingredients.
With that said, the chicken will not soak up all of the liquid in the crockpot, and that’s totally fine. Any liquid remaining should be discarded. Use a slotted spoon to transfer chicken from the crockpot to a measuring cup. I usually freeze chicken in 2-cup portions, using a quart-size freezer bag.
6. Label the bags with the date and what’s inside, including any savory ingredients you may have used. Flatten the bag as much as possible so it can be stacked easily in the freezer, and will also thaw more quickly due to how thin it is.