Ready cooked chicken is the perfect ingredient to have on hand for quick-fix lunches and dinners. It can be incorporated into many different dishes from chicken sandwiches to salads, pasta, stir-fry, and soup.
Unfortunately, chicken doesn’t have a very long shelf life which means cooking it in bulk may mean having to eat more chicken than you want to prevent any of it going to waste… or maybe not.
Freezing chicken is the perfect way to preserve it and extend its shelf life. This means you can cook once, and eat for a couple of weeks incorporating the chicken into various dishes.
Here is everything you need to know about freezing raw and cooked chicken successfully.
Types of Chicken You Can Freeze
Chicken is popular as a protein dish worldwide. It can be grilled, poached, pan-fried, roasted, slow-cooked, deep-fried in batter, smoked, and also baked in the oven.
The applications in which chicken can be used are endless, from soups and stews to cold salads, whole stuffed birds, roulades, pie fillings, and waffle toppings to name a few.
With a fairly neutral taste, chicken can be paired with a variety of salty, sour, creamy, and spicy flavors, herbs, and sauces making it suitable for use in worldwide cuisine types and flavor profiles.
Not only is the flavor manipulation versatile, but the texture can also vary from crunchy to soft, shredded, whole, sliced, or chunky.
Raw chicken can be purchased as a whole bird, or prepared and portioned into white meat, dark meat, skinless fillets, strips, or chicken mince.
White meat cuts come from the chicken breast. Whole chicken breasts are available with or without the skin, bone-in, or deboned. Chicken meat, known as ‘dark meat,’ is generally more flavorful and includes drumsticks, wings, and thigh cuts.
Chicken mince is a combination of white and dark meat. Many stores also sell chicken strips, pre-cut and ready for stir-fry type dishes as well as pre-marinated chicken kebabs on skewers.
Can Chicken Be Frozen?
Yes, you can freeze cooked chicken as well as uncooked chicken. Never freeze cooked chicken (or raw chicken) that is nearing its expiry or showing signs of going off. This can be a great risk for foodborne illness and harmful bacterial growth.
It is important to keep the chicken protected from contact with air and moisture to prevent it from drying out. Cooked chicken should always be cooled to room temperature before freezing.
Freezing cooked chicken while still warm will cause large ice crystals to form which will cause freezer burn resulting in the deterioration of the product’s flavor and texture.
How To Freeze Cooked Chicken
Step 1: Cool
Cool the chicken to room temperature. To speed up the cooling time, you can place it in the refrigerator or slice it while still warm.
Step 2: Debone and Cut
If cooked on the bone, remove the chicken flesh from the bone as well as the skin. Although you can freeze the chicken on the bone, preparing it before freezing makes using the chicken much easier when needed.
You can either discard the bones or freeze them separately to make stock or soup at a later stage. Once deboned, slice, shred, or cut the chicken into the desired size pieces. Chicken breasts can also be cooked and frozen whole if desired.
Step 3: Bag It
Portion the shredded chicken or chicken pieces into the amounts you will need at a given time. Freezing each portion separately allows you to only remove what you need from the freezer instead of having to thaw and use the entire batch at once. Place each portion into a resealable freezer bag.
If you are freezing the chicken with gravy or sauce, pour the gravy over the chicken in the freezer bag making sure you leave at least half an inch of headspace for the expansion of the liquids.
Freezing the chicken with gravy will assist in keeping it moist, however, only freeze gravy if it is flour-based. Cream or dairy-based gravies will not freeze well.
Press out any remaining air and seal the bag tightly.
Step 4: Label and Freeze
Using a permanent marker, label the bag with the date to keep track of how long it has been stored in the freezer.
How To Freeze Raw Chicken
The best way to freeze raw chicken is to keep it in vacuum-sealed packaging to protect it from contact with air and moisture. A whole chicken purchased from the store is usually packaged in airtight, vacuum-sealed wrapping to keep bacteria out.
Wrap the packaged chicken in another double layer of clingfilm for an extra layer of protection and in case the store wrapping has any small holes.
Once wrapped, label with the date and place it in the freezer. Keep in mind that you will have to defrost and use the whole bird when freezing it this way.
To freeze chicken portions, thighs, wings, drumsticks, or mince, place the pieces into resealable freezer bags.
For mince, strips, or cutlets, portion the meat into smaller quantities and pack each portion into a separate freezer bag. This way, you can prevent having to defrost the entire batch and remove only what you need.
Once packed, press out any air from the freezer bags and seal. Label with the date before freezing so that you can keep track of how long the chicken has been in the freezer.
How To Thaw Frozen Chicken
To defrost frozen cooked chicken, remove it from the freezer and place the freezer bag on a plate in the refrigerator to defrost overnight. Never leave the chicken to thaw on the countertop at room temperature as this will compromise the safety of the food. This method can also be used to thaw frozen raw chicken.
To defrost the chicken faster, you can also place the sealed freezer bag in a water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes.
Freezing leftover cooked chicken not only saves on waste, and money but allows you to have a ready prepared tasty meal at the drop of a hat without needing to do much at all.
With a tendency to dry out quickly, the chicken should be protected from contact with air and moisture when freezing.
Once thawed and reheated, the chicken should be consumed. Cooling and reheating the chicken more than once may cause the growth of harmful bacteria and compromise food safety.
Whether tossing it with dressing in a chicken salad, adding it to stir-fry, quiche, or using it for a taco filling, there is always a delicious way to use chicken leftovers. There is no doubt that this is one ingredient that you always want on hand and what better way than keeping a stash in the freezer.
Up next: Can you freeze chicken salad?