By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com
"Always cook extra" is a standard practice in the Galvin kitchen. You never know when 3 extra teenage boys will arrive just as dinner is served or the coaches will schedule a make-up game at the last minute. Whether I have extra mouths to feed or suddenly no time to make dinner, I lean on leftovers--especially big batches of basic cooked chicken (and turkey).
It's helpful and easy to place a couple of extra chicken breasts on the grill, in the slow cooker, or in the oven. The same holds true for a turkey breast in the smoker or oven. Both lean proteins can be transformed into something new and special, days or even months down the road if you freeze the extras.
Your premade cooked chicken will be much cheaper than the rotisserie bird you'll pick up at the checkout line, and because you are cooking it alongside another meal no extra cooking time will be involved. If you're heating up the oven (especially in summertime), you might as well fill it up!
- Make sure all poultry is fully cooked: White meat should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit; dark meat should reach 180.
- Allow meat to cool for 5-10 minutes before shredding, slicing or dicing.
- Dice or slice larger cuts of meat for later use. By cutting into smaller pieces they will reheat faster, and you can save them in single portions more easily. (If you're using the meat immediately in a cold salad this will chill the meat down faster.)
- Place meat in airtight containers or freezer bags, label each container, then refrigerate for up to four days or freeze for later use.
- To keep your chicken moist and tender, consider poaching rather than grilling. Poached chicken can be used in soups, casseroles, and salads and reheated with any sauce you like.
15 simple ways to transform your leftover cooked chicken (or turkey) into something tasty:
- Add to an egg white omelet with spinach and white cheese for some extra protein.
- Place 1 ounce of chopped or sliced meat on top of a toasted whole wheat English muffin then add sliced apples and sharp Cheddar. Melt the cheese in a toaster oven or a 300 degree oven.
- Wrap up a scrambled egg, diced turkey, sliced avocado, and salsa in an 8-inch whole wheat tortilla.
- Saute diced cooked sweet potatoes with shredded carrots, onions, and diced turkey or chicken with 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil. Cook 5-6 minutes.
- Mix turkey or chicken with barbeque sauce, and place on a whole-wheat sandwich thin with shredded carrots.
- Make a tostada: Layer sliced bell peppers, fresh salsa, and black beans with shredded meat on a whole-wheat tortilla.
- Combine ground turkey with corn, black beans, chopped cilantro, and lime juice for a quick salad or burrito filling.
- Pulse meat in a food processor with roasted red peppers and drained and rinsed chickpeas for a quick sandwich filling. Go bunless and sandwich and stuff into Romaine lettuce leaves.
- Make chicken salad your way. Try adding grapes, toasted nuts, mixed greens, shredded carrots, pea sprouts, watercress, or boiled red potatoes.
- Top a whole wheat pizza crust with shredded chicken, add arugula and parmesan cheese. Grill or bake until bubbly.
- Toss chunks of chicken with whole wheat pasta, chopped tomatoes and basil pesto for a cool summer salad.
- Toss with mixed greens, chopped tomatoes, diced red onion, and sliced bell peppers. Garnish with olives and a vinaigrette dressing for a Greek salad.
- Make a simple hot brown. Top a toasted whole-wheat English muffin with 1 ounce of extra lean ham, 2 ounces of sliced chicken or turkey, 2 slices of tomato, and mozzarella or Swiss cheese. Place in 375 degree oven until the cheese melts.
- Mix shredded chicken with cooked brown rice and salsa. Top with shredded cheese and bake at 375 until the cheese is bubbly.
- Place chicken in a greased casserole dish and pour on low-sodium jarred sauce. Sprinkle on shredded low-fat mozzarella and bake until bubbly.
With these tips, you can turn basic chicken breasts or ground turkey into an easy meal in no time.
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SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of " The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.