Everything you need to know about working with frozen chicken. Learn how to defrost it, how to cook it, and find easy recipe ideas for frozen chicken that use minimal ingredients.
Many of us are working with frozen and pantry ingredients more than ever and today I wanted to help you navigate the world of frozen chicken and talk about how to cook it, how to safely defrost it, and give you a bunch of easy frozen chicken recipes. For side dish ideas, consider learning to roast frozen vegetables.
Frozen chicken is something I almost always have in my freezer since I like to stock up when it is on sale. Usually, I buy a mix of frozen breasts and thighs but these recipes and methods will also work for bone-in chicken. Plus with all the recent developments, I have a lot of chicken in the freezer since it is something we eat at least a few times a week.
Today I wanted to help you figure out how to use any chicken that you may have frozen. This starts with how to defrost it safely (and quickly if needed), how to cook it and when it is safe to cook it from frozen, and tons of easy recipe ideas that don't rely on lots of fresh ingredients. These are simple easy meals you can prepare for your family.
How to defrost frozen chicken
Generally speaking, you always want to defrost frozen chicken before cooking with it but there are a few exceptions that I started below. There are lots of different ways to defrost frozen chicken and the right method will depend on how much time you have. Ideally, you want to let chicken defrost naturally in the fridge for 1-2 days for the best results and the best chicken, but if you forgot to plan ahead, you still have some options.
- In the fridge (longest but safest): This method is the bets for defrosting chicken since it maintains the integrity and texture of the chicken and is the safest. Place your frozen chicken in a bowl or container to catch any liquid that drips from the packaging. This keeps things clean. Then plan on 1-2 days for the chicken to fully defrost. The exact time will depend on your fridge temperature and the amount/thickness/packaging of the chicken. Once it is defrosted, you have 1-2 days to use it so plan on placing it the fridge 2 nights before you want to use it for best results.
- In the sink (under an hour): This method takes under an hour and is the second best option. Start by leaving the chicken in its packaging if it is shrink-wrapped or placing it in a ziploc bag if the packaging might leak. Place the chicken in a bowl of cold water. A pound of chicken will take 40-60 minutes. Change the water in the bowl every 30 minutes.
- In the microwave (quickest): This is the least favorable option since it results in a weird texture and can be unsafe when not done right. If you are going to try this method, make sure the chicken has a uniform shape and thickness so it doesn't cook on the outside. Then defrost at 40% power for about 2 minutes so you can separate the chicken pieces. Once you can separate the pieces, microwave in 1-2 minute increments at 25% power until defrosted.
- On the counter: Since I know it will be asked, it isn't recommended to defrost chicken on the counter or in the sink by itself. It is very hard to control the temperature using this method and bacteria can easily grow as the outside of the chicken defrosts.
Frozen Chicken Recipes
Chicken is a great protein to keep in the fridge or freezer. It's lean, packed with protein, and super versatile since it works with all different cuisine types and ingredients. It is also packed with vitamins and minerals.
- Slow Cooker Tomato Balsamic Chicken (227 calories, 3 Green, 0 Blue, 0 Purple): If needed replace the onion with onion powder, garlic with garlic powder, and use frozen defrosted spinach. You can also leave the veggies out. Use any style of canned tomatoes. This works with chicken breast, chicken thighs, and pork.
- Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Chicken (249 calories, 5 Green, 5 Blue, 5 Purple): Make this with chicken breast, chicken thighs, or pork. If you don't have Asian chili paste, you Sriracha or red pepper flakes. Use garlic powder in place of fresh.
- Bang Bang Chicken (263 calories, 6 Green, 3 Blue, 3 Purple): When you are craving takeout, make this fun dish with a creamy sweet and spicy sauce made with minimal ingredients. If you don't have sweet chili sauce, use a combination of Sriracha and honey. Make with chicken breast, chicken thighs, pork, tofu, cauliflower, or even chickpeas. This sauce tastes good on everything.
- Greek Yogurt Parmesan Chicken (233 calories, 4 Green, 2 Blue, 2 Purple): If you have yogurt, mayonnaise, or sour cream and Parmesan cheese, you can make this crowd-pleasing baked chicken dish.
- Sesame Chicken (255 calories, 5 Green, 3 Blue, 3 Purple): This is another great recipe when you are craving takeout. Serve it with any grain (rice or quinoa ar favorites) and a steamed vegetable for a quick and satisfying meal.
- Baked Chicken Fajitas (226 calories, 3 Green, 0 Blue, 0 Purple): If you have a bag of frozen peppers and onions (or fresh) and some canned diced tomatoes, you can make this dish. Serv it with tortillas, over rice, or with beans.
- Chicken and Sweet Potato Soup (250 calories, 6 Green, 5 Blue, 3 Purple): This soup is so comforting and is made with sweet potatoes, which is a great pantry staple since they last a long time when stored in a cool, dark place. You can use any chicken in this recipe, or leave it out. You can use any shape of pasta or substitute rice. Use chicken broth, vegetable broth, or bouillon. Add any veggies and spices you have on hand.
- Chicken Chow Mein (336 calories, 9 Green, 8 Blue, 8 Purple): Although this recipe may look anything but pantry friendly at first glance, it's actually super easy to adjust. Use any pasta (looking at you Ramen) and any protein you like. Substitute a bag of frozen mixed veggies for all the fresh options and season with oyster sauce or all soy sauce.
- Chicken Tinga (189 calories, 3 Green, 0 Blue, 0 Purple): If you want to make tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or tostadas - this is your recipe. Use any type of chicken or pork and canned diced tomatoes. You could also substitute salsa to make it a two-ingredient recipe.
- Brown Sugar Chicken (232 calories, 5 Blue, 4 Green, 4 Purple): This kid friendly dish can be made with chicken breasts or chicken thighs. If you don't have lemon juice, just add a splash of apple cider vinegar instead. Use any flour you have on hand. You can even make your own brown sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoons of molasses to a cup of white sugar.
- Easy Honey Mustard Chicken (250 calories, 6 Green, 6 Blue, 6 Purple): This super versatile recipe can be made with any fresh or frozen vegetable you have on hand. If you use something that cooks more quickly than carrots, just add them in the last 10 minutes of cooking.
- Creamy Chicken and Broccoli Pasta (438 calories, 9 Green, 7 Blue, 7 Purple): Make this delicious, restaurant-style pasta dish with frozen broccoli, garlic powder, and onion powder to make it more pantry friendly. It will still turn out creamy and delicious.
- Instant Pot Salsa Chicken (209 calories, 3 Green, 3 Blue, 3 Purple) Just two ingredients for a dish you can serve and use a million ways. Plus since this is made in the Instant Pot, you can cook the chicken right from frozen.
- Chicken Fried Rice (372 calories, 8 Green, 5 Blue, 2 Purple): Use any grain you have on hand and replace all the fresh vegetables with a bag of mixed frozen veggies. Flavor with soy sauce, minced garlic, ground ginger. Add some canned pineapple for even more flavor.
- Easy Chicken Soft Tacos (277 calories, 6 Green, 4 Blue, 4 Purple): Tacos is a way to instantly make dinner more fun and these take less than 20 minutes and are made with spices you likely already have in your pantry.
Can I cook frozen chicken in the slow cooker?
According to the USDA, you shouldn't cook frozen chicken in the slow cooker since harmful bacteria can grow as the chicken moves from frozen to cooking. It is recommended that you always defrost the chicken first and then add it to the slow cooker.
With that said, I know many people do cook frozen chicken in the slow cooker, but this isn't recommended from a safety standpoint.
How to frozen chicken in the Instant Pot?
You can cook frozen chicken in the Instant Pot or a pressure cooker since it is a much faster and quicker cooking process and there is not as much time for bacteria to grow. For chicken breasts, add 3-4 frozen breasts to the Instant Pot with 1 cup of liquid and spices. Cook on Manual for 10 minutes and let naturally release for about 2 minutes. Chicken thighs will take about 10 minutes as well. Bone-on chicken will take longer.
Can I cook frozen chicken in the oven? stove-top?
You can cook chicken in the oven or on the stove-top from frozen but you may change the texture of the chicken and it could become rubbery. This is especially true for boneless chicken breasts. Generally speaking, I only recommend cooking from frozen if it is within a soup, stew, or sauce and you can cook it slowly. At high temperatures, you will change the texture significantly. One exception is for stir-fries if you can slice your frozen chicken into very thin pieces.
How long does chicken last in the freezer?
Raw chicken lasts in the freezer for up to 9 months if it is stored correctly. Cooked chicken can be frozen for 2-3 months. Once it is defrosted (raw or cooked), it should be used within a couple of days.
Tips for Easy Pantry/Freezer Substitutions
Here are some more tips for adjusting your favorite frozen chicken recipes to be more pantry and freezer friendly.
- Fresh onion: Use 1 tbsp onion powder or 1/4 cup dehydrated onion to replace 1 onion
- Fresh garlic: Use 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp garlic flakes, 1 tsp minced garlic in oil to replace 1 clove
- Fresh ginger: Use 1/4 tsp ground ginger to replace 1 tbsp of fresh ginger
- Fresh Herbs: Use 1 tsp dried herb to replace 1 tbsp of fresh herbs
- Hot sauce: Use 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper mixed with 1 tsp white vinegar to replace 1 tsp hot sauce
- Lemon juice: Use 1/2 tbsp of white vinegar for 1 tbsp of lemon juice
- Soy sauce: Use 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce with 1 tbsp water to replace 1/4 cup soy sauce
- Fresh vegetables: Use frozen or canned vegetables with a similar cooking time. For example, substitute frozen green beans for fresh zucchini, frozen spinach for kale, or frozen butternut squash for sweet potatoes.
- Beans: Canned beans can be swapped out in almost all recipes. Don't worry about swapping them out based on what you have.
- Grains: Swap in alternative grains as needed but make sure to adjust the cooking time and/or cook separately since cooking times can vary greatly with rice, quinoa, farro, barley, and other grains.