Boneless/skinless chicken breasts are supposed to be quick and easy. So why have they always been the bane of my foodprep existence?
The main reason is because I’m vigilant with my budget, only buying chicken once every couple of weeks the when prices plunge to $1.99/lb or less at Sprouts. It’s a good system for me, but the only issue is that the ‘Value Packs’ sold there have truly ginormous chicken breasts – they’re usually over 1 lb. each (!!!)… I admit that they creep me out a little, but it’s so much more economical than any other option that I’ve kept buying them anyway. The thing is, it’s an outrageous pain in the butt to get those things into freezer-friendly portions. Breaking down each package, trimming the fat/gristle, slicing the humongo-breasts into reasonably sized cutlets, and spreading them out on a baking sheet to flash-freeze so they don’t stick together before later transferring into their freezer bag, all accompanied by the strict contamination precautions needed when dealing with raw poultry… UGH. Not fun!
And then there’s the issue of actually cooking the cutlets that I dutifully prepped. Of course they need to be defrosted before they can be properly broiled or pan-roasted or stir-fried, so that’s another barrier between me and dinner. And don’t you think we have enough barriers already?!
Thankfully, I finally figured out the solution to my problem. And knowing myself, I really shouldn’t be surprised that it involves Instant Pot, my loyal kitchen companion. I’ve learned that with the magic of pressure-cooking, I can effortlessly cook chicken breasts from frozen. Yes, STRAIGHT FROM THE FREEZER! It even works for my extra-large chicken breasts, meaning I can freeze them without having to break them down first – each one yields enough shredded meat for dinner + leftovers for 2. If you’re working with regular-sized frozen breasts, this will still work for you too – it will just happen even faster! The chicken steams itself into tender, moist perfection with the help of whatever flavorful liquid your heart desires. Along with the rest of my Instant Pot recipes, it’s really been a game-changer for my weeknight cooking. If you’re a fellow pressure-cooking devotee, read on for the simple steps!
Start with about a pound of frozen chicken breasts. That would be one of my extra-large ones, or four regular ones.
Then decide what you’d like your chicken to taste like. You’ll want 1/2 cup of something tasty, and 1/2 cup of water to dilute. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, and I’ll share some of my favorite combos below, but for this example I’m keeping it simple: storebought salsa!
After you mix in the water to make a full cup of liquid, pour it over the chicken in your pressure cooker. Close the lid and set to either 15 minutes for regular chicken breasts, or 30 minutes for giant ones. I’ve used both the manual setting and poultry program on Instant Pot, but need more tests to tell if there is a difference. I’ll keep you posted.
After the cook time is up, open the valve for a quick release and remove the chicken to shred it. If by chance you find that your chicken is undercooked, never fear – just shred it as best you can and return it to the pot with Slow Cooker or Saute mode turned on until it’s cooked through.
And tada! It really is that easy. This is a glimpse at the finished product from my post on Chimichurri in a Hurry.
On weeknights, I throw the chicken and sauce into the cooker, and then begin my relaxed 30-minute countdown/meditation of figuring out what else is going into our dinner. I might be reheating leftover brown rice and chopping up fixin’s to top burrito bowls, or I might be toasting buns and tossing a side salad, or whatever else sounds good in the moment!
Or on weekends, I can take a couple of minutes while I’m at home to cook up some healthy protein that I can bank on later in the week. For example, the salsa Insta-Chicken from these photos later went on to play a starring role in a killer taco pie / enchilada bake (you can thank fellow RD blogger at Fearless Flying Kitchen for the recipe).
And the real beauty of this technique: endless flavor possibilities. Variety is the spice of life, of course! Starting with the easy Mexican chicken we walked through in the photos, here are 5 of my favorite flavor combinations that I’ve tried so far:
Simple Salsa: 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa
BBQ: 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce + a splash of apple cider vinegar for extra tang
Teriyaki: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup soy sauce + 1/4 cup orange juice + 1 Tbsp. brown sugar + a squirt of sriracha
Cuban Mojo: 1/2 cup water + 1/3 cup orange juice + juice from 1/2 lime + 1-2 cloves of minced garlic + 1/2 tsp. cumin + salt/pepper
Spicy Korean: 1/2 cup water + 2 Tbsp. gochujang + 2 Tbsp. honey + 2 Tbsp. soy sauce + 1 Tbsp. sesame oil + 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
OK, I lied: I can’t stop at 5! I’m going to continue to update this post with more simple sauces whenever I try one that strikes my fancy. Fellow experimenters, I’d LOVE to hear about your successes in the comments!
Honey Dijon: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup whole grain mustard + 1/4 cup honey + hot sauce (if desired)
Lemon Garlic Herb: 1/2 cup water + juice from 1/2 lemon + 2 cloves minced garlic + 1/2 tsp. dried basil + salt/pepper
Jamaican Jerk: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup molasses + 2 Tbsp. lime juice + 2 Tbsp. orange juice + generous sprinkles of dried thyme/allspice/salt to taste + a handful of fresh sliced garlic and ginger (and hot peppers if desired)
Chile Verde: one 10-oz. can green enchilada sauce (no need to dilute with water)
Thai Curry: 1 cup canned coconut milk + 1-2 Tbsp. Thai curry paste of your choice (no need to dilute with water)
If you’re looking for more healthy + delicious food to cook up in your Instant Pot, check out my other recipes here!