It was another in a series of cold, grey, drizzlish days here in lovely Portland. And so I felt motivated to make some chicken, as I've been doing every couple of weeks now.
Having diced, cooked chicken ready to go is like having money in the bank. Stir it into some cooked, cold rice; heat it briefly on the stove; add a handful of frozen peas and an egg; lavish with soy sauce; and you've got chicken fried rice. Roll it up in tortillas, scatter some cheese and a drizzle of sauce over the top, and you've got chicken enchiladas (Amy's recipe for which I've been meaning to try). Cook some cheese tortellini in a pot of chicken broth, toss in some diced chicken and a pile of slivered spinach leaves, and you've got a tasty soup (which is delicious with corn muffins).
But, much like water chestnuts or fresh cilantro, diced cooked chicken is one of those things which one never seems to have on hand when one needs it. So I've been pre-cooking it when I think of it, and when the house seems as if it would benefit from the nice homey perfume of braising fowl.
It goes a little something like this:
Slice two onions, not too fine, and scatter them over the bottom of a Crock-Pot.
Dump in a quantity of frozen chicken. Breasts and/or thighs work well. I usually use a mix of both. Don't bother thawing it, or rinsing off the ice glaze. Fill the Crock-Pot with as much chicken as you like, keeping in mind that Crock-Pots cook best when filled between half and two-thirds full. If your Crock-Pot is like mine, you should be able to do four six-ounce breasts and four to six thighs without a problem.
Add a quantity (really; 1 Tbsp or so would not be amiss) of various dried herbs, either in "Italian seasoning" form if you have such a thing on hand, or some proportion of dried basil, thyme, parsley and/or oregano if you don't. Add a couple very generous pinches of kosher salt. Add some minced garlic, fresh or dried. Add plenty of pepper, both fresh-ground black and crushed red flakes. Stir gently to distribute.
Cover and turn heat to High. After two hours, turn heat to Low and cook for another two or three hours. (This is best done when you'll actually be at home for most of the day, because if you let chicken go in the Crock-Pot for eight or nine uninterrupted hours, it will dry out and turn cottony and gross. Also, it won't dice well.)
The chicken will become wonderfully tender and fragrant without drying out. You can fork out a piece at a time and dice it into roughly 1/2" chunks; you will probably have about 8 cups of chicken when you're done cutting it up. Divide it into portions (of about 2 cups or so, probably), put into containers or freezer bags and refrigerate or freeze. But don't forget to sample a piece as you work. This will probably lead to a few more samplings disappearing into your mouth; this is really amazingly yummy-tasting.
There will be plenty of liquid and spent onion in the bottom, along with bunches of schmaltz-precursor which it seems a shame to throw away but, really, what else are you going to do with it? Were you an enterprising sort, you could strain this liquid and come up with about a cup and a half of beautifully savory broth; but usually, by this point in the game, I'm about done with chicken and ready to go on to something else (such as cleaning up the kitchen).
Here's one of the recipes I made with my last batch of Crock-Potted chicken. The kids liked it well enough that I thought I should share.
Curried Chicken Salad
2 cups cooked, diced chicken
2 celery ribs, cut in 1/4" dice
1 small tart apple, unpeeled, cut in 1/4" dice
A small handful of raisins (completely optional)
Mayonnaise to moisten (in practice, about 3 Tbsp to 1/4 cup)
1-2 tsp curry powder (or a blend of turmeric, ground cumin and dried ginger)
Dash cayenne pepper
Stir together mayonnaise, curry powder and cayenne pepper in a medium bowl. Fold in remaining ingredients; check for seasoning. (The chicken should be well-seasoned enough that you won't need more than a pinch of salt.) Chill and serve over spinach leaves as a salad or with whole-grain bread as a sandwich.