For those of you who are buying the 40 pound box of Zaycon Foods chicken breasts, I thought I would do a mini-series on how to prepare, cook, and freeze your chicken over the next few weeks. Today I will write about how to prepare and freeze your chicken. Next Monday I will talk about different marinades and give you some great recipes to use for marinading your chicken. The following Monday (the week the chicken comes!), I will put up some easy chicken recipes to make while you are prepping and freezing all that chicken!
Before you can do any freezing, you need to make sure you are going to have room in your freezer for the chicken, room in your refrigerator to store the raw chicken while you are prepping and cooking it and a bunch of Ziplock freezer bags on hand. You will also need a fairly good block of time to cook and prep the chicken before freezing. Make sure it is within a day or two of receiving your chicken so that the chicken does not grow harmful bacteria.
What I normally do to make meal time much quicker is prep and cook some of my chicken when I get it and it is still raw. A lot of the recipes I make call for cubed cooked chicken or shredded chicken. It takes A LOT more time to defrost frozen raw chicken, then cube and cook it or cook and shred it, then it does to do it before hand and defrost chicken that is already cooked. It does take more time at once to do this, but I promise you, it will save you time when you are ready to cook your meal. And you can cook double or even triple batches of chicken at once if you do it ahead of time and split between freezer bags.
When buying bulk chicken it is hard to determine how much a pound is. You can either weigh your chicken with a food scale (I use a postage scale if I absolutely need to know how much it weighs) or you can do it the way I normally do it. I have found that most of the time, a large chicken breast weighs about half a pound and a medium one about a quarter of a pound. The chicken breasts from Michael's Meats (where I usually buy my chicken) are on the larger side and weigh about half a pound each. I don't know how big Zaycon Foods' chicken breasts are, so I don't know how many breasts per pound. I will weigh it when it comes in with my scale and let you all know.
If the chicken breasts I buy have any skin on them, I take all the excess skin off before doing any of my cooking. I am sure that it would be okay to not do this, but I just really don't like how the skin looks, so I take the time to remove it.
Cooked cubed chicken is usually measured by the cup in recipes. Two cups of cubed chicken equals about 1-1/2 pounds of boneless chicken breasts. I cut up the chicken breasts into one to two inch pieces and cook them. Normally, I do not season the chicken or put anything with the chicken since I don't know what recipe I am going to use it for. If for some reason I do, I will go ahead and do what the recipe says when cooking the chicken (i.e. add onion, spices, etc.). After it is cooked through (no longer pink in the middle), I drain any liquid and let the chicken cool. Label the bag with what it is, what quantity and the date. Put the chicken in the bag and get as much air out of the bag as you can while you are sealing it. Air contact with food in the freezer is what causes freezer burn. I try to eat my cubed chicken within two months of cooking it.
As far as shredded chicken goes, the weight and cup measurements are about the same as the cubed chicken. I normally pound the chicken breast a little before I cook it so that it is easier to pull apart after cooking. Bring a large pot of water to boiling on the stove. Add the chicken breasts (do not season or add oil). Boil the chicken until it is fully cooked, no pink in the center. This is usually about 15-20 minutes. You don't want to overcook the chicken, though, because it will be kind of rubbery if you do. Let the chicken cool for about 5-10 minutes. Don't let it cool too much or it will be hard to shred. Hold the chicken in place with one for and pull pieces of the chicken off with another fork. Label the bag with what it is, the quantity and the date. Place the chicken in the bag and try to get as much air out of the bag as you can when sealing it. As with the cubed chicken, try to eat it within two months of cooking it.
I also prep the chicken breasts that I am going to freeze without cooking. I cut them into individual portions so that when I am defrosting, it doesn't take as long. I usually freeze two large chicken breasts (about 1 pound) cut into four portions per bag. I label the bag with what kind of chicken (chicken breasts), how many portions there are (in case I have to add a couple more per bag), and the date. Again, make sure to get as much air out of the bag as you can when sealing it to avoid freezer burn. This raw chicken can be frozen for up to 9 months before you eat it.
You can also add marinade to a bag with chicken breasts. Always double bag these bags, though, in case one bag gets a hole. Cleaning marinade with raw chicken juice that leaked all over your refrigerator when defrosting is NOT fun! Next week I will give you some great marinading recipes to try out. Again, label the bag with what is in the bag, what kind of marinade, how many portions and the date. I try to eat these within 6 months.
Normally, I do not list what kind of chicken I have in my freezer (like I do with freezer meals) because I can usually see it all. Normally I just buy about 10-15 pounds at one time. However, when the Zaycon order comes in (I will be getting 60 pounds of chicken!), I will need to list what I froze and when I need to eat it by.
Defrosting is pretty simple. If you have a microwave that has a defrost mode on it, do it that way. My microwave is AWESOME when it comes to defrosting. I can tell it what kind of meat it is and how much it weighs. It normally defrosts it just right! I do open the bag up a little bit to let any steam/air escape as it is heating. Make sure you cook the chicken you are defrosting in the microwave immediately since some of it may have become warm and can grow bacteria if placed back in the refrigerator. Also, I DO NOT defrost chicken in marinade in the microwave. I am sure it can be done but I have had too many messes to do this anymore! NEVER, EVER, under any circumstance, defrost your chicken on the counter!! If you defrost your chicken in the refrigerator, use it within a day or two to ensure no bacteria growth. If you are not going to be able to prepare it before then, you can safely refreeze it. Here is a good reference for how to handle chicken safely: http://www.foodreference.com/html/artchickensafety.html.
Hope this article helps some of you who were wondering how to do all this. It may seem kind of overwhelming and if so, take it slow. I went from preparing a few pounds of chicken at a time to 10-15 pounds and now 60 pounds here in a couple of weeks!