What's Fabulous: Rotisserie Chickens
Meals With a Ready-Cooked Chicken
It seems like everyone is right now just slammed with work. Maybe it's because the year has fully revved up or it could be a stale holiday leftover with past-due tasks that must now get done. For as long as I can remember, the first quarter has always been my busiest time of the year and right now I'm having days when the volume of looming deadlines make my head hurt.
At times like these, going to my kitchen at the end of a stressful day is a respite. While it is rare that I can't find an hour to make dinner, what gets sacrificed is time spent on shopping and prepping. These are the real time gulpers for home cooks, not those fabled "30 minutes" spent at the stove. But I've embraced one answer for the over-committed city cook who is fighting the lure of take-out food: the rotisserie chicken.
Many of New York's best food markets sell perfectly cooked whole chickens. They're roasted in a spit throughout the day, every day. For the busy city cook, buying a still-warm little chicken -- most are around two-and-one-half pounds -- is like a secret ingredient that can keep your hands from dialing for pizza.
Here's why I love them:
- The chickens are usually nicely cooked, meaning they are juicy and flavorful, with a thin and tasty skin.
- They are usually still warm when you buy one, so you can go right from the store to your table.
- If you buy your cooked chicken earlier in the day, just store it in your refrigerator; before serving it or combining chicken pieces with other ingredients, just bring it to room temperature.
- Instead of eating the chicken as the main event, pull its meat off the bones and it becomes a ingredient in another dish.
- One whole chicken serves 4 nicely, or one or two persons with leftovers, or even more people if the chicken becomes part of a salad or other dish.
- On a hot summer evening, you can have roast chicken without turning on your oven.
- They are (usually) not costly to buy. They cost more than buying an uncooked chicken but far less than eating chicken in a restaurant. Case in point: whole rotisserie chickens at Whole Foods cost $7.99.
Where to Buy Rotisserie Chickens
The city's bigger food markets all cook and sell them -- Whole Foods, Citarella's, Fairway, Zabar's, Balducci's, Eli's Manhattan, many other and most of the chain supermarkets. Some of the better butchers also sell them, including Lobel's and Schatzie's.
You can also buy a whole roasted chicken on a take-out basis from some of the city's ethnic restaurants, such as the Chinese-Peruvian Flor de Mayo on West 107th Street or one of the bigger, better delis like Carnegie. Restaurant prices are usually higher, however, so try a food market first.
Turning a Chicken Into a Meal
The simplest way to eat a rotisserie chicken is of course just as it is -- carved into pieces and served with a side of a full flavored cooked vegetable like glazed carrots or steamed asparagus. Or make a salad of French green beans (haricots verts) that you've steamed on the stovetop or in the microwave, then left on the counter to quickly cool to room temperature; toss the tender beans, still slightly warm, with raw, halved cherry tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt, and drizzle everything with a little extra virgin olive oil, letting the tomatoes' juices provide the acid.
But you can also turn the chicken into something special by using it as the main ingredient in other dinner meals:
- Cut or shred the chicken into large pieces and add to a mixed salad of seasonal lettuces, chunks of raw bell pepper, dried cranberries, Feta cheese and pecans. See our recipe for Rotisserie Chicken Salad.
- Combine with diced pieces of baked or boiled ham and toss with curried mayonnaise for a light chicken salad. See our recipe for Lynette's Chicken Salad.
- Make a quick weekday pizza dinner by buying a piece of raw pizza dough from your neighborhood pizza shop as you also stop to buy your rotisserie chicken. Pull the chicken meat off its carcass and tear into bite-sized shreds. Then roll out the raw dough and place it on a cookie sheet or even inside a pre-heated cast iron skillet (if you pre-heat the pans while the oven is coming up to temperature, the dough will brown better on the bottom). Drizzle it with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes in a 450 ºF oven. At this point (which is before the dough has finished cooking), pull the pan out of the oven and sprinkle its top with a handful of paper thin sliced zucchini and shredded pieces of cooked chicken and bake another 10 minutes until the zucchini is no longer raw and the pizza is golden brown. See our recipe for making City Pizza at home.
- Make any recipe for chicken burritos or tacos with flour or corn meal tortillas. You can skip the time-consuming steps of cooking the chicken and instead use rotisserie chicken pieces, either white or dark meat or both. If you don't have a favorite burrito or taco recipe, do a search at the popular recipe web sites like Food & Wine, Epicurious or FoodTV because they each have a number of recipes. We added a link to a recipe from Food & Wine for Chicken Burritos With Black Bean Salsa and Pepper Jack.
- Warm your best chicken stock (best quality boxed stock can work) and add pieces of cooked chicken, some slices of steamed carrots, and a small amount of cooked rice or small pasta for a Quick Weekday Chicken Soup. Of course it's not as good as homemade soup, but if it's a freezing winter's night, and you're exhausted and fighting a cold, you will overlook its compromise.
- Add generous pieces of the cooked chicken to a chopped salad that includes chunks of fresh tomato and cubes of stale bread to make a Chicken Panzenella Salad. This salad is always best with better, in-season tomatoes but if it's mid-winter, substitute halved cherry tomatoes or else oven-roasted plum tomatoes that you've let cool before adding to the salad.
- Use as the main ingredient in a home-made Chicken Pot Pie using boxed chicken broth as the basis for a quick gravy and store-bought frozen puff pastry to put on top.
- Cut the pieces of chicken into one-inch chunks and toss with cooked pasta and pieces of roasted tomatoes and florets of steamed broccoli. See our recipe for Roasted Cherry Tomatoes.
- Drizzle your favorite BBQ sauce on pieces of chicken and serve alongside spears of roasted potatoes.
- Make a Cobb Salad with chunks of chicken, cubes of avocado, crumbled blue cheese and lots of salad greens, dressed with a mustard vinaigrette.
- Chicken Fried Rice combines cooked rice, frozen peas, pieces of cooked chicken and a scrambled egg. Season with soy sauce.
- A Chicken Melt Sandwich is as easy as piling pieces of cooked chicken onto a thick slice of your favorite bread and top it with a thin piece of cheese such as cheddar, jack or Swiss. Put under a broiler until the cheese melts. Add mayonnaise, grainy mustard or a shot of hot sauce if you like.
In other words, any recipe that needs pre-cooked chicken can be made with a rotisserie chicken. So take advantage of one of the benefits of easy city cooking by buying a ready cooked chicken from one of our neighborhood food merchants.
Although I began this article by whining about being overworked, I know that complaining is pointless. Instead it may be more helpful to share the gratifying comment made in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine. U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic was asked what advice he'd give to people who are looking to be happy. His answer: "For starters, learn how to cook." Sounds like poetry to me.