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The convenience of cooked chicken

(ran SP, NP editions)

Convenience and chicken are popular words in most cooks' vocabularies.

These recipes call for cooked, diced chicken in two cases (think rotisserie deli birds or boneless breasts quickly simmered).

The third recipe relies on a slow cooker (Crock-Pot) for the cook's peace of mind and a bottle of teriyaki sauce for most of the flavor.

A political promise during the Great Depression of the 1930s was a chicken in every pot. Today, we see a rotisserie chicken in every grocery cart.

Line up in any supermarket checkout line from 4:30 to 7 p.m. The rotisserie birds in their see-through plastic clamshell containers will be riding along every checker's conveyor belt on their way to the American dinner table.

Clever cooks are not necessarily taking them home and slapping them down on the nearest platter _ a whole, cooked bird just as it came from the market. No, they're using the rotisserie birds for all the dishes that call for already cooked poultry, such as barbecue-chicken pizza, casseroles, salads and club sandwiches or heroes.

Entire cookbooks have been written about chicken salad, but here's one version you probably haven't tried.

The Underground Chicken Salad is so named because it calls for two root vegetables, potatoes and pickled beets. The recipe was tested with pink-skinned new potatoes and the deliciously mild pickled beets from a grocer's salad bar. Be sure to mix the chicken salad just before serving it at room temperature, or the beets' red pigment will bleed into the mayonnaise-sour cream dressing. No one likes pink chicken salads.

Speaking of rosy colors, a red onion is called for, but that variety can be strong and hot. Taste it before adding to any salad. If it's too strong, dice the onion and soak it 30 minutes in cold water with a touch of sugar and dash of vinegar. Drain after it soaks up a bit of the moisture and becomes milder, then use in the salad.

Lacking a red onion, use a new-harvest sweet onion, such as a Vidalia or Walla Walla. The earlier Texas 1015 sweet onions of April were so huge, you would need only a fraction of one for this salad.

Crumbled bacon and toasted walnuts are this salad's crowning touch. Both flatter the beets, and they're good for a little crunch. Serve it on watercress if available.

The scalloped potato dish layers thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes with cooked, diced chicken, whipping cream and grated Parmesan cheese. It's fine with a green vegetable, such as fresh, wilted spinach and crusty bread.

Slow cookers, those popular plug-in crocks, entered the market more than 25 years ago, and they seem even more relevant in the new millennium. Cooks still clamor for slow-cooker ideas because they can "fill it and forget it."

U.S. consumption of meat and poultry has increased steadily to a current rate of 220 pounds a person per year. Chicken accounts for the largest share of growth, according to the National Chicken Council. Two-thirds of the heat-and-serve products in grocery stores include chicken.

For health's sake, meat or chicken should be eaten with plenty of vegetables and whole grains, so spoon the Slow-Cooker Chicken Teriyaki over brown rice and don't skimp on the vegetables.

The Chicken Cookbook (Random House, 2001, $2.95), the new edition of the popular paperback featuring chicken contest finalists, debuted at the 44th National Chicken Cooking Contest in April in Sacramento, Calif. There are 51 finalists' entries, one per state, including the $25,000 winner. There is also a section of chicken recipes from various California cities and some past winners. Order it by sending a check or money order for $2.95 with name and mailing address to Chicken Cookbook, Dept. NCC, Box 307, Coventry, Conn., 06238.

Underground Chicken Salad

4 chicken-breast halves, boneless, skinless

1 cup diced pickled beets

2 cups diced, cooked potatoes (not bakers)

{ cup sweet or red onion, minced

\ cup chopped dill pickle

\ cup mayonnaise

\ cup sour cream

Salt and pepper

1 bunch watercress, washed, trimmed

3 strips bacon, cooked, crumbled

\ cup walnut pieces, toasted

In a medium saucepan, place raw chicken and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover and simmer for 8 minutes, just until the meat is opaque and firm. Remove chicken from pan. Cool.

Dice salad-bar beets or canned pickled beets to make 1 cup. Place in a small bowl and set aside. Chop cooked chicken into smallish bite-size chunks. Place in a large bowl. Stir in the cooked potatoes (red-skins are best for this salad; leave on peel), beets, red or sweet onion, dill pickle, mayo and sour cream. Add salt unless potatoes were cooked in heavily salted water, and chicken was salted; grind in black pepper or a mixture of pink, white and green dried peppercorns.

Line a large platter with watercress. Top with salad, then sprinkle with bacon bits and walnuts, which have been toasted until crisp and fragrant in a small, ungreased skillet over medium heat. Serve at room temperature for best flavor.

Yield: 4 servings. Preparation time: 45 minutes (or use rotisserie deli-chicken).

Tip: Do not make this salad ahead of time unless you hold out the diced beets and toss them in at the last minute. Otherwise, the beets' red pigment will bleed into the dressing.

Source: National Chicken Council and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.

Scalloped Chicken and Potatoes

1 pound cooked diced chicken

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon flour

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup milk or chicken broth

{ teaspoon ground nutmeg (less freshly grated)

{ teaspoon salt

\ teaspoon milled pepper

{ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Spray a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish with non-stick oil spray. Lay half of the potato slices on bottom of dish. Sprinkle evenly with flour, garlic and chicken. Top with remaining potato slices. Have oven heating to 350-375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cream, milk or broth, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour over potato layers. Sprinkle Parmesan evenly on top. Cover dish tightly with foil, then bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake 30 minutes more, until lightly browned on top.

Yield: 6 servings. Preparation time: 20 minutes. Baking: 45 minutes plus 30 minutes.

Source: National Chicken Council and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.

Teriyaki Chicken

2 pounds chicken breasts, boneless, skinless

1 16-ounce bag frozen broccoli, carrots, cauliflower

1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained

2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

1 cup chicken broth

4 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons bottled teriyaki sauce

2 tablespoons dry mustard

1{ teaspoons grated orange peel

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Hot cooked rice

Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. Wash hands, cutting board and knife with hot, soapy water. Place frozen vegetables and water chestnuts in a large slow cooker. Sprinkle with tapioca granules. Place chicken on top of vegetables.

In a small bowl, mix chicken broth, brown sugar, teriyaki, dry mustard, orange peel and ginger. Pour sauce over chicken. Cover with slow-cooker lid and cook on low 4-6 hours or on high 2-3 hours. Stir and spoon over hot cooked rice.

Yield: 8 servings. Slow cooker: 2-6 hours.

Source: Rival Crock-Pot.