By Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
If there is a single food that speaks to how we Americans eat in the early 21st century, it is rotisserie chicken.
It’s convenient. It’s delicious. It’s surprisingly inexpensive. It’s absolutely packed full of sodium. And it is an excellent way of putting a hot meal on the table without having to do any additional cooking.
But what if you want to do the additional cooking? Or to put it another way, what if you’re tired of eating rotisserie chicken straight out of the container and you want to jazz it up a little?
I used rotisserie chickens as a base for other dishes. Basically, I used them as I would use leftover.
In the spirit of buying an already-cooked dish, I started with a recipe that makes use of prepared foods.
I made Amy’s Chicken Pot Pie, which was suggested by a colleague for whom rotisserie chicken is a standard ingredient. Not only is the chicken premade, but you also use a refrigerated pie crust. And frozen mixed vegetables.
With so much work done before you start, it barely feels like cooking. But it tastes almost as good as if you had done all the prep work yourself.
Still, it is not entirely work-free. For the filling, I sautéed the frozen mixed vegetables with some chopped onion and then added a combination of chicken broth, milk and a dash of sherry, thickened with flour.
Cream instead of milk would have made it richer, and more sherry would have made it more elegant. But when you start with a rotisserie chicken, you shouldn’t have too many pretensions.
Quesadillas are the great catch-all for cleaning out your refrigerator, so I made one with a rotisserie chicken.
You don’t want too many competing flavors in your quesadilla; this is a food that is best when it is kept simple. All I did was sauté together some onions, green peppers and mushrooms. I added the chicken just before assembling the quesadillas.
There is a trick to making a great quesadilla, but it literally only takes one extra minute and adds less than 40 calories: Heat a teaspoon of oil in the skillet and place a tortilla in the hot oil for one minute. Remove that tortilla before replacing it with the other tortilla, to which you then add the filling and the cheese (store-bought shredded cheese makes it easier).
Then you place the first tortilla oil-side up on top and mash it down with your spatula. When the bottom tortilla is nicely mottled with golden-brown spots, flip the whole thing and cook until the cheese is melted.
It is wonderfully satisfying. And it is even more satisfying when you serve it with salsa.
My other two dishes were a bit more complicated, though not much. One was a chicken tortilla soup, which packs a lot of flavor into a hearty bowl.
This soup is full of all the things that make Hispanic cooking so irresistible. It has onions, garlic, jalapeños, tomatoes, black beans, limes and cilantro in it as well as the chicken, and it is garnished with strips of a tortilla and wedges of an avocado.
I even forgot to add the shredded Monterrey cheese, and nobody complained. It tasted just right the way it was. It was light and delicious.
For my last dish, I made Szechuan Noodles with Chicken, a rotisseried version of a familiar Chinese staple (at least in American restaurants of the 1980s).
I occasionally make a version of this dish that I absolutely adore, but then I saw that Ina Garten had a vegetarian recipe that was a bit more complex in ingredients and flavor. I’ve learned that you can usually trust Ina Garten, so I decided to try it.
Among the many ingredients are six cloves of garlic and ¼ cup of ginger. I was taken aback when I saw those amounts; even for a full pound of spaghetti, that is an awful lot of garlic and ginger. But then I looked at some of the reviews of the dish, and the few that were negative all complained that it was bland.
I’m guessing the people who didn’t like it skimped on the garlic and ginger, and maybe on the other ingredients, too. When prepared as directed (with a couple of minor changes by me, such as adding chicken), this is a powerfully flavored recipe to keep and serve to your friends.
You can even tell them you cooked the chicken yourself.
CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP
Yield: 6 servings
1. In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Once the onions have softened, add the garlic and jalapeños, and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the chicken stock, tomatoes and beans, and bring to a simmer. Simmer 5 minutes.
2. While the broth is simmering, heat a skillet. When hot, add tortilla. Cook 1 minute, until bottom is lightly toasted. Flip and cook 1 minute until lightly toasted. Remove from heat and cut into thin strips. Set aside.
3. Once the broth has simmered for a few minutes, add shredded chicken, lime juice and cilantro. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve soup garnished with lime wedges, avocado slices, tortilla strips and a sprinkling of cheese.
Per serving: 437 calories; 20 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 74 mg cholesterol; 29 g protein; 38 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 10 g fiber; 1,268 mg sodium; 234 mg calcium
Adapted from a recipe by Danny Boome, via Food Network
SZECHUAN NOODLES AND CHICKEN
Yield: 8 servings
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1. Place the garlic and ginger in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the vegetable oil, tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, sherry, sherry vinegar, honey, optional sriracha, sesame oil, cayenne and black pepper. Puree the sauce.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook the spaghetti al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander, place it in a large bowl, and while still warm, toss with the chicken and 3/4 of the sauce. Add the red and yellow bell peppers and scallions; toss well. Serve warm or at room temperature. The remaining sauce may be added, as needed, to moisten the pasta.
Per serving: 640 calories; 36 g fat; 15g saturated fat; 27 mg cholesterol; 22 g protein; 11 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 1,037 mg sodium; 59 mg calcium
Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten.
ROTISSERIE CHICKEN QUESADILLAS
Yield: 3 servings
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet and add the onions, green peppers and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in chicken and remove from heat.
2. Heat a separate skillet over medium-high heat, and add 1 teaspoon of the remaining oil, swirling it to cover the bottom of the pan. Add 1 tortilla and cook 1 minute. Remove to a separate plate, and add another tortilla to the pan. Scatter 1 cup of the filling over the tortilla, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the cheese. Place the reserved tortilla on top, oil-side up, and lightly smash together with a spatula. Cook 1 minute until bottom tortilla is nicely browned. Flip and cook 1 minute more.
3. Repeat this process with the remaining 4 tortillas to make 2 more quesadillas. Because a little oil will be left in the pan, you will only need to add about 1/2 teaspoon of the remaining oil for each one.
4. Cut into wedges and serve with your favorite salsa.
Per serving: 583 calories; 23 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 107 mg cholesterol; 36 g protein; 59 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 1,377 mg sodium; 282 mg calcium
Recipe by Daniel Neman
AMY’S CHICKEN POT PIE
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place 1 pie crust in a pie pan, preferably glass.
2. Melt butter in large skillet or pot. Add onion, season with a little salt and pepper, and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add frozen vegetables and cook until vegetables are no longer cool.
3. Stir in chicken broth, milk, sherry and flour. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Stir in chicken, taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
4. Pour filling into prepared pie pan and cover with other crust, pressing around the edges to seal the crusts together. Cut slits in the top crust and bake 30 to 40 minutes until flaky and golden brown. Cover edge of crust with foil after 20 minutes to avoid burning.
Per serving (based on 6): 464 calories; 26 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 61 mg cholesterol; 19 g protein; 78 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 1,077 mg sodium; 78 mg calcium
Recipe by Amy Bertrand and Daniel Neman
APPLE-FENNEL CHICKEN SALAD
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 apple, finely chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped
1/2 small shallot, finely chopped
8 ounces poached, roasted or rotisserie chicken, torn into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
Using a fork, mix apple, fennel, shallot, chicken, mayonnaise, chives, tarragon, lemon zest and juice in a medium bowl until well combined. Season with salt, pepper and more lemon juice, if desired.
Per serving: 188 calories; 12 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 47 mg cholesterol; 15 g protein; 6 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 395 mg sodium; 33 mg calcium
Adapted from bonappetit.com