1. Soup, 2. Pot Pie, 3. Chicken a la king, 4. Chicken salad, 5. Chicken croquettes, 6. Tacos, 7. Paella, 8. Pasties/Empanadas, 9. Breakfast hash, 10. Casserole, 11. Fried rice. There's just something so boring about leftovers. When you microwave yesterday's roast chicken, it comes out gray and slightly rubbery, with flabby skin, far from the delicious golden chicken it was the day before. What if, instead of unappealing leftovers, you could turn your uneaten chicken into something exciting and new, something that didn't taste anything like leftovers? Chicken's neutral flavor makes it an excellent team player, capable of filling a variety of roles in a variety of recipes. So, here are some of the best ways to use up leftover chicken.
- Pot Pie
- Chicken a la king
- Chicken salad
- Chicken croquettes
- Breakfast hash
- Fried rice
A good pot of chicken soup is always welcome, especially in the winter. This application works best if you have leftover chicken from a whole bird because the bones can be used to make a tasty homemade broth. If not, don’t worry; you can simply chop up your chicken meat and add it to store-bought broth, or even water if you’re in a pinch. Soup is great for getting rid of all kinds of leftovers, as well as vegetables that have been sitting in the fridge for too long and are starting to look sad. Nothing clears out your fridge like a big batch of chicken and vegetable soup.
You don’t have to stick to tried-and-true dishes like chicken noodle soup. Make some chicken pozole if you want something with a little chile kick. If you want to go Asian, a quick riff on chicken pho or ramen would be delicious. Simply open your refrigerator and see where your ingredients lead you.
Pot pie is a good way to get rid of a bunch of random vegetables on top of your chicken, but it also feels like a heftier, more solid dinner than a broth-heavy bowl. Simply make a thick gravy or cream sauce, toss in some chopped-up cooked chicken and vegetables, and top with some kind of dough. Pot pie is a great way to stretch a small amount of leftover chicken into a large meal because you’re adding so many other ingredients to it.
You have several options for the dough. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own pie dough, store-bought works just as well. You can also use biscuit dough, either homemade or store-bought in a refrigerated cardboard tube. Puff pastry adds a luxurious touch if you want to go in a fancier direction. You could even make a chicken shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes instead of dough.
Chicken a la king
This is an old-school method of reusing leftover chicken that never fails to please. There are as many recipes for chicken a la king as there are cooks, but they all involve chicken pieces swimming in a creamy sauce with various vegetables. The traditional sauce for this is a roux-thickened béchamel made with milk, but there are shortcuts if you need to get dinner on the table quickly. To coat the chicken, peas, pimentos, and mushrooms in this simple chicken a la king recipe, combine cream, chicken stock, and canned cream of mushroom soup.
This dish is extremely saucy and requires starch to soak up all of the juices. Plain white rice or egg noodles, as well as toast points or biscuits, would work well. If you want to take your chicken a la king to the next level, make some puff pastry cups, also known as vol-au-vents, and fill them with the chicken mixture.
Chicken a la king
Chicken salad is one of the most obvious uses for leftover chicken, but that doesn’t make it boring or unworthy of consideration. If you’ve been burned by bland chicken salad in the past, making your own allows you to experiment with different seasonings. Nobody could accuse coronation chicken salad of lacking flavor, thanks to the curry powder and apricots.
A good chicken salad is all about finding the right balance of flavors and textures and designing the perfect bite. You don’t want mush in your mouth, so you need something crunchy. Celery, green apples, nuts, and scallions are all excellent options (though probably not all at once). Select a crunch that complements the other flavors you’re bringing to the party. Because most chicken salads are creamy, adding some sharp flavors to wake up your palate is a good idea. Vinegar, citrus, hot sauce, or cayenne pepper can all be used. It’s difficult to go wrong if you start with an open mind and taste after you add each ingredient.
Croquetas, also known as croquettes, are a traditional Spanish way to repurpose leftover meat. These can be made with any protein, but chicken is a classic and delicious choice. Croquetas are more involved than the majority of the leftover chicken recipes on this list. They may also be the most delicious, so if you’re feeling ambitious.
Croquettes are made by finely chopping or shredding cooked chicken meat. The chicken is then mixed with an extra-thick, pasty béchamel sauce. The mixture is then chilled until it is stiff enough to form into small balls or tubes. You can bread and fry them at this point, but they will hold together better if you freeze them first. Deep-fry and serve to pipe hot with your favorite sauce.
This pseudo-tinga will be delicious in tacos, but don’t limit yourself to the shell. It’s also delicious on top of nachos, in a burrito, or as the foundation for an enchilada recipe. Serve it in quesadillas or on a platter with rice and beans. With this tinga, you can make any dish you can order at a Mexican restaurant at home.
Returning to Spain, here’s another fantastic “use up whatever’s in the fridge” recipe: paella. Paella is more of a technique than a specific set of ingredients, and add-ins can range from rabbit and snails to a variety of seafood. The key to making a good paella is to start with sautéed aromatics and then cook your toasted rice in a flavorful broth.
Add shredded leftover chicken and any other proteins or vegetables you want, keeping in mind the time it takes to cook each addition so that everything is ready when the rice is done. A nice crusty layer of browned rice at the bottom of your pan is the telltale sign of a properly-made paella. When serving, make sure to scrape that crunchy layer off the bottom because it’s the best part.
Pasties, empanadas, pocket pies, and Hot Pockets: People all over the world make small pouches of dough filled with savory meat fillings. These little bundles of joy are a great way to use up leftover meat because they are portable, handheld, and perfect for snacking. Cornish pasties are the prototypical savory handheld pie in the English-speaking world. They began as a portable meal for Cornwall’s hardworking coal miners, consisting of pie dough wrapped around a meat-and-vegetable filling. While the meat is traditionally added raw and cooked while the pastry bakes, you can totally make a pre-cooked meat and vegetable mixture out of leftover chicken to put inside your pastry dough.
Empanadas are the Spanish/Latin American equivalent of pasties, and unlike their Cornish cousins, the meat filling is usually pre-cooked. The above-mentioned cheater tinga recipe would be a great filling, or you could dice up leftover chicken and use it in this green chile chicken empanada recipe.
Breakfast hash is usually associated with corned beef, specifically the kind that slides out of a can and can still be found crisply griddled at some old-school diners. That stuff is tasty, but there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one type of meat for hash. If you think about it, almost any type of meat goes well with eggs and fried potatoes, so why not eat leftover rotisserie chicken for breakfast?
All you need to do to make an excellent hash is dice up some potatoes and fry them in a skillet until crisp, then add diced chicken. You can also include flavorful vegetables such as onions, garlic, and peppers. Sauté everything together, add a couple of over-easy eggs, and you’ve got yourself a weekend breakfast that anyone would enjoy. Homemade chicken hash is also likely to be healthier than canned corned beef hash.
What can’t go into a casserole? Casseroles, beloved by midcentury and Midwesterner moms for their convenience and ability to fit an entire dinner into one baking dish, deserve more respect. Casseroles, despite their reputation for being boring or monotonous, can be quite delicious and showcase a variety of flavors when prepared with care. You can do anything with a can of cream of mushroom soup and a dream.
If you like Southwestern flavors, the Texas classic king ranch chicken should be right up your alley. Green chiles are used in this zesty casserole to add a little kick to a hearty stack of cooked chicken and tortillas. If you want something more traditional, chicken casserole with cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup, diced chicken, and egg noodles will put you in a creamy, starchy food coma.
Fried rice is the ultimate way to use up leftovers. It’s not only a delicious way to use up leftover chicken, but it also tastes better when made with old leftover rice. It’s also ridiculously simple. All you need for a delicious chicken fried rice is scallions, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice, eggs, and, of course, chicken.
In a wok or large nonstick skillet, sauté the scallions and garlic in oil, then add the rice and chicken and cook until heated through and the rice is coated in an even layer of oil. Push the rice to the side of the pan, then add the eggs to the oil and cook until mostly done, then combine with the rice. Make a tasty lunch by seasoning everything with soy sauce and sesame oil. Once you’ve mastered the basic technique, you can create an infinite number of variations by varying the vegetables and seasonings.