As a mom, there is no point at which your mind is not racing a hundred miles a minute. How am I going to get Mac to soccer at 4, Miles to football at 4:15, Bradley to swim lessons at 4:30? How in the world am I going to pick them all up, then? When will we finish his math homework, her craft project, his music practice? The lawn, the laundry, the dishes. The haircuts we should’ve gotten last week. And – ack! – what will we have for dinner tonight??
With all the craziness buzzing through our brains, it’s no wonder that the easiest answer to supper is so often CHICKEN. Chicken on Monday, chicken on Tuesday, chicken on Wednesday. It’s readily accessible, often on sale, high in protein and easy as can be to pull together in the middle of the madness. Plus, it’s the standard by which all picky eaters judge their food. Unfortunately, however, chicken is so right, it’s easy to get wrong. Without a wide variety of ways to prepare chicken, it can be predictably boring and borderline tasteless.
I’ve got you covered, though. I’m a mom too. And my kids are definitely the kind who ask, “Chicken for dinner AGAIN??” So here’s how I answer that question with flavor and variety for winner after winner of chicken dinners:
1. I “Bubba Gump” it
Do you remember in the movie “Forrest Gump,” when Forrest makes the mistake of asking his old friend Bubba how he likes to make shrimp? Bubba goes on through sideways rain and never-ending war rattling off the many ways he likes shrimp. And I could take you right on through the rainy season with a list of how I like to make chicken! Grill it, sauté it, put it in a soup, put it on a sandwich. Fry it, roast it, shred it. Put it on a salad. Stuff it with ham and cheese
At any given point, I like to have at least five chicken recipes at the ready to get me through the week (or even month!). I’m constantly trying new ones but like to keep my family’s old favorites in rotation too. I make sure the five of the week showcase different flavor profiles and cooking techniques. And I’m also strategic about saving myself time along the way. I’ll put two recipes that call for grilled chicken back-to-back, so I can grill all I’ll need for the next night on the first one. Even if I serve chicken five days a week, we can enjoy variety. And if I pepper in some non-chicken recipes, I can spread them over two or three weeks, and still loop them a couple more times before they get old.
2. I keep it saucy
An amazing sauce goes a longgg way. I keep at least five different sauces in my pantry/fridge/freezer at all times. Dressings, marinades, marinara, pesto, salsa, masala. Some of them homemade, some store-bought. They work beautifully as condiments or even braising liquids too.
Since chicken can soak up so much flavor, it’s a great way to try new sauces from the store, which (bonus!) are often on sale when they first come out. Cook the chicken according to the suggestions on the sauce package and serve with a simple grain like rice
or egg noodles. It just might be that a new sauce transforms the same old chicken into a new favorite.
3. I’ve mastered the breading
With small children in particular, a good crust can be a huge selling point. Whether the chicken is shaped like a nugget or not, crunch makes for a supper victory. And the secret to a solid win is in a simple 3-step breading technique.
Here’s what you do: Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and set aside. Create three stations – one for a dry ingredient (flour or gluten-free cornstarch), a second for a wet ingredient (milk, buttermilk or eggs whisked with a little water) and a third for another dry. What you put in the third bowl determines the amount of crunch you’ll get in each bite. Use flour or fine breadcrumbs for pan-frying, Panko or smashed pretzels for baking and extra crunch. Drizzle your crusty chicken, however crunchy it may be, with honey or mustard (or honey mustard!).
4. I play with the cuts
When shopping for groceries, stop at the meat counter and talk to the butcher about the different cuts of chicken. There is a perfect one for every cooking method – whole for roasting on a bed of root vegetables, dark-meat thighs for braising and slow cooking, thinly sliced scaloppini breasts for sautéing in 15 minutes or less. Be frank with your butcher about the amount of time you have to cook and the amount of money you want to spend. He or she can really help you add variety to your chicken dinner.
So to answer that earlier question, yes we are having chicken for dinner AGAIN. And again and again and again. It’s just too good – and healthy, affordable, easy and crowd-pleasing – not to make it more than once a week. And with so many delicious ways to doctor it up, it never gets old.