Top Five: Chicken Dishes (No Breasts Allowed)

My wife and I love cooking with chicken. It is an incredibly affordable and versatile protein, and it works well with almost any seasoning, cuisine and cooking method. As a result, we end up cooking at least one chicken dish every week – sometimes two – and even when we buy high-quality organic poultry from Whole Foods we are still able to save a significant amount of money compared to pork, lamb or beef.

For the average home cook, there are a couple of drawbacks to cooking with chicken. First, most people tend only to cook with chicken breasts – especially boneless and skinless breasts. Not only does this choice cost more money, but it also ensures that the flavor of the meat will be less-than-ideal. Second, most home cooks prefer to stick to simple preparations and cooking methods for their chicken. Chicken casseroles, chicken skillets and shake-and-bake chicken are staples around the country, but they lack excitement, succulence and depth of flavor.

Keeping with the spirit of thriftiness and the sustainable practice of eating the whole animal, my wife and I always opt for chicken quarters at the grocery store. Once in a while if a breast is absolutely required we will buy some that are bone-in, but we regularly avoid them in favor of cheaper dark meat.

Although this section of the bird has more inherent flavor, it requires longer cooking times due to the bones. Therefore, when using chicken quarters, it is important to use appropriate cooking methods – such as slow roasting. The recipes below all use chicken quarters, they all boast strong ethnic flavors and they all result in delightfully bold mouthfuls of the world’s most consumed protein. I hope you will give them a try and see how cost effective and delicious the humble chicken quarter can be.

1) Jerk Chicken with Plantains and Collard Greens

$17 Total – 6 Servings – $2.85 Per Serving

Caribbean jerk chicken is one of those dishes that will always leave you craving a second bite. The spiciness and sweetness balance perfectly, and with a side of earthy greens and sweet and savory plantains, this delicious dish becomes a well-rounded meal.

To prep the chicken, I rub six quarters down with a generous coating of jerk spices – bought in bulk for only a few cents – olive oil, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of honey. It is important to make sure that you put just enough honey for sweetness, but you don’t want to overpower the other flavors.

Once the chicken is prepped, I bake it covered with foil in the oven at 375 degrees until the chicken is cooked through. When the juices run clear, I uncover the quarters, place them back in the oven and broil them on low until they get nice and browned. This last blast of high heat caramelizes the rub and locks in all those juices and wonderful flavors.

For the plantains, I simply cut each one in half lengthwise, peel them and place them on a baking rack. By cooking them on a baking rack instead of in a pan, the super-starchy plantains won’t stick and they cook more evenly. I like to season my plantains with a spicy and warming blend of cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. These flavors complement the sweetness of the plantains and make a perfect accompaniment to the spices on the chicken.

The plantains can cook alongside of the chicken in the oven until they are fork tender. They don’t brown, but you can tell they are done when the ends start to droop below the grates on the baking rack. When you take them out of the oven, let them sit for a minute or two to firm up slightly before taking them off the rack and serving.

The collard greens also require little preparation. First, they need to be thoroughly washed, roughly chopped and put into a large pot on the stove. To elevate these humble greens, I begin by adding olive oil, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a spoonful of garlic. I also season them with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and for an added bonus, I stir in a teaspoon of Better Than Bullion brand chicken base – a small amount of bullion or chicken stock works just as well.

These seasonings meld together excellently, and they add a savory and tangy edge to these simple greens. You don’t need to cook the collard greens long, just until they are fully wilted and the stalks are fork tender. This will ensure that their natural flavor doesn’t disappear and that they keep enough texture for a nice crunch.

2) Chicken Tikka Masala with Madras Sambas and Rice

$38 Total – 8 Servings – $4.75 Per Serving

As I’ve written before, I often cook with premade sauces and sides, especially when I’m making an ethic cuisine that I don’t have many spices for. Anytime I’m in the mood for a delicious curry, I go straight for Sassy Indian brand sauces and Jyoti brand canned sides. It may cost a little bit extra, but it means less cook time, a smaller pantry and much easier preparation.

To prepare the chicken, I rub three chicken quarters with curry powder, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and some grapeseed oil. Then, I cover the chicken with foil and cook it in the oven at 375 until the juices run clear. When the chicken is fully cooked, I let it rest for a few minutes, and then I shred the meat off the bone using a fork and a knife. I discard the bones and most of the skin.

As the chicken roasts, I begin steaming my rice. With Indian food, I typically use forbidden or basmati rice, both of which need a little more water than plain white rice. I flavor the rice with curry powder and chicken stock, and I let it cook on medium-low heat until the water is absorbed and the rice becomes tender and fluffy. When the rice is fully cooked, I turn the heat off and let it sit until time to serve.

After starting the rice, I sauté an onion in grapeseed oil using a Dutch oven. When the onion is browned, I add a can of chickpeas or a small bag of frozen green peas and a handful of raisins, and I let these cook with the onion for a couple of minutes. I season everything with some curry powder, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and then I add two small jars of Tikka Masala sauce. At this point, I turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pot.

Next, I put two cans of Madras Sambar – a delicious stew of veggies and daal – into a pot on the range and cook it on medium-low until hot. I then put it on simmer until it’s time to eat. When the chicken is cooked and shredded, I add it to the Dutch oven and let everything cook for about 10-15 minutes. Before I plate the meal, I toast a couple of pieces of Naan. Although much of this meal relies on store-bought items, the taste is excellent, and everything combines for a balanced and hearty meal.

3) Curry Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Root Veggie Chips

$23 Total / $28 With Chutney – 5 Servings – $4.60 Per Serving

My wife and I were first inspired to make this recipe after watching Ina Garten prepare a version on Barefoot Contessa, and since then we love indulging in this 80’s classic for a flavor-filled, easy-to-fix lunch.

Although we use chicken quarters, for those making a large quantity and with little time to spare, I recommend opting for a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. I prepare my three chicken quarters by coating them generously with curry powder, salt and pepper, along with some grapeseed oil. To get the skin extra crispy, I cook the chicken at 375 uncovered until the juices run clear.

When the quarters are fully cooked, I let them sit for a few minutes while I prepare the rest of the ingredients for the chicken salad. I begin by finely chopping a few stalks of celery, roughly chopping a handful of walnuts and combining them in a bowl with a handful of raisins. Next, I add about a cup of mayonnaise and curry powder to taste. Ina also adds Major Grey’s chutney, but we usually try to scale back on the sugar by leaving this ingredient out.

When everything is ready, I shred the chicken, finely chop the crunchy skin and add it to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. I stir all of the ingredients together and add extra salt, pepper and curry powder to taste. Next, I scoop a generous portion of chicken salad onto hearty sourdough – which compliments the chicken salad with its tanginess – and top it with arugula for a peppery finish.

For a side, we love to have Terra brand root veggie chips. The salty earthiness adds a nice balance to the sweet and savory chicken salad, and nothing pares better with a refreshing sandwich quite like a few crunchy chips.

4) Chicken Mole Tacos with Plantains

$29 Total – 6 Servings – $4.80 Per Serving

When my wife and I are in the mood for Hispanic food, we love to foray further South with a decadent, rich and authentic Mesoamerican dish of chicken mole. Made of nearly two dozen ingredients, mole poblano is a unique and fascinating sauce that combines cocoa, peppers, spices and herbs. The flavor profile of mole is something truly magical, and it makes some of the most delicious tacos around.

For our mole tacos, I begin by roasting six chicken quarters at 375 degrees in the oven covered with foil. I season the birds with a rub of paprika, turmeric, oregano, cilantro, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, sumac, salt, pepper and olive oil. I cook the chicken until the juices run clear, and then I let them rest for a few minutes before shredding.

As the chicken cooks, I sauté an onion in olive oil using a Dutch oven on the stovetop. After seasoning the onion with salt, pepper, paprika and cilantro, I add in a chopped poblano pepper, a small can of diced green chilies and two small chopped purple sweet potatoes. The sweetness of the potatoes accentuates the cocoa in the mole and balances out the spiciness, and it brings another pre-Hispanic ingredient to the mix for an authentic experience.

When the sweet potatoes begin to soften, I add a jar of Hernán brand mole sauce and a cup of chicken stock. In order to fully dissolve and incorporate the mole, I stir the mixture vigorously and turn the heat up high enough to bring it to a boil. When the sauce is smooth, I turn off the heat and let it sit covered until the chicken is ready.

As the mole sits and the chicken quarters finish cooking, I prepare the plantains in the exact same way that I do for the jerk chicken recipe above. After taking the chicken out of the oven, I keep the temperature the same and add the plantains, cooking them until they are fork tender. While the plantains roast, I shred the chicken – discarding the bones and most of the skin – and add it to the mole.

I cook the mole on medium for a few minutes until the plantains are done in order to bring all of the flavors together. Before plating, I warm a few sprouted corn tortillas and serve them on the side.

5) Chicken BBQ Pizza

$20 Total – 6 Servings – $3.30 Per Serving

The final dish on my top five list is neither ethnic nor highly spiced, but its flavor makes it a favorite indulgence for my wife and I. Like the other dishes on the list, it begins by roasting three quarters in the oven at 375 degrees until the juices run clear. I season the birds with paprika, salt, pepper, red pepper, turmeric, rosemary and thyme, and I cook them uncovered.

When the chicken is fully cooked, I let it sit for a few minutes while I prepare the pizza base, shred the cheese and chop a red onion. As I mentioned in “The Ultimate Guide to Weeknight Pizza,” it’s important to make sure that the store-bought pizza dough has rested at room temperature for about an hour before pulling it out and placing it on the pizza pan. On top of the dough, I put a layer of Rufus Teague barbeque sauce, followed by the shredded chicken, Gouda cheese and red onion.

Since the amount of ingredients makes two pizzas, I save half of the chicken, onion, cheese and BBQ sauce for the next one. When the pizza is ready, I bake it at 425 until the dough rises and the dough, cheese and onion brown.

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