Heaven knows some nights it can feel like the culinary gods are conspiring against those who endeavor to cook a fresh, healthy dinner with some semblance of regularity. Don’t be discouraged though — routine family dinners have been shown to help set kids up for success. The secret to consistently winning the dinner game always includes an arsenal of simple tricks to streamline the process.
One way to make life easier is to start with an item that’s pre-cooked. Enter: the rotisserie chicken. Most grocery stores sell a variety of roast chickens, which can be simple or seasoned with herbs and aromatics. I tend to opt for the simply seasoned option so I’m not pigeonholed into a specific flavor profile when I get home and start cooking.
Consider the almighty rotisserie chicken as a blank canvas upon which you can do innumerable things — with half the work already done for you. In honor of fall’s rapid approach, here’s a shortlist of our favorite recipes to get your creative juices flowing.
When in doubt, make a taco and you’re sure to delight someone. Shred the chicken by hand or with a fork and toss it with some chopped cilantro, lime juice, and jalapeno. If need be, you can moisten it with a little olive oil. For an added treat, finely chop some of the skin and fold that into the mix. Pair this filling with crispy roasted cauliflower and chipotle crema like Cookie and Kate does in her recipe for roasted cauliflower and lentil tacos.
Pasta salad gets a bad rap for being redundant and uninteresting. This makes me sad, because pasta is in my blood. Look to Well Vegan’s recipe for Olive and Artichoke Pasta Salad for some inspiration. Shred the chicken and toss with lemon, olive oil, and fresh oregano, marjoram, or any other fresh herb you have on hand. Fold this into the pasta along with the rest of the ingredients. Serve cold or at room temperature. This is a great one to bring to end-of-the-season picnics and barbecues.
Pinch of Yum’s got the right idea with this Thai Noodle Salad. It comes together quickly and will fill up your hungriest eater. Consider swapping out the red pepper for extra shredded kale as fall approaches. To prep the kale, roll the leaves up nice and tight and slice finely. When you slice through the fibers this way, it makes raw kale more palatable and pleasant to eat. Rub it with lime, sesame oil, and salt and fold into the salad.
This dish was one of my mother’s staples back in the day. You can make it with or without chicken, but as the temperatures start to cool down, the added protein makes the soup a lovely, filling supper. Check out No Spoon Necessary’s recipe as a helpful guide. To make this meal even more fun and interactive for kids or to engage your dinner guests, set aside small bowls of each accompaniment and let everyone finish the soup to their liking. Extra avocado is always a good idea.
Alexandra Stafford’s recipes are always reliable, and here she offers an interesting recipe for chicken and rice using Moroccan flavor profiles. This is a great recipe for the Instant Pot, but you can also make it on the stovetop using the pilaf method, which she clearly explains in the recipe notes. Consider thinly slicing some chard, which is abundant this time of year, and folding it in at the end.
Deb Perelman’s recipe for Chicken Caesar Salad is a delight as is. But if you don’t have the time, or the will, to brine and cook the chicken breasts, use a rotisserie chicken. Pick it apart into large pieces, douse it with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and olive oil and serve on top of crispy romaine lettuce drizzled with her finger-licking Caesar dressing. You will not regret spending a little extra time making the croutons.
Cauliflower is a heart-healthy ingredient perfect for bulking up a hearty curry with minimal added calories. This healthy, warming dish packs a protein punch from the chickpeas, but you can stretch it even further and add more heft to it by either swapping the chicken for chickpeas or leaving them in for extra protein and fiber. The Minimalist Baker suggests several fun serving variations: Dish it up like a hearty soup, over grains as a curry bowl, or even over greens as a fancy salad (my preference).
Bonus: Cheater’s Chicken Stock
Don’t throw away that carcass! You can make a flavorful stock from it by breaking it up into smaller pieces (using your hands or a small cleaver). Toss all the odds and ends in a 4-quart stockpot with the carcass. Cover completely with cold water, bring to a slow boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for an hour while you eat dinner. If you have stray vegetable scraps — leek tops, onion peels, fennel scraps, a stray carrot — throw them in for the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. Bay leaves also add depth. After an hour, strain and chill. If there’s a large pool of fat (schmaltz) that solidifies at the top once the stock is chilled, scrap it off and save it for frying potatoes, cooking breakfast eggs, or roasting hearty fall brassicas like Brussels sprouts. Waste not, want not.
Brianna Bond is a writer and the chef-owner of The Wholesome Kitchen LLC, a personal chef business based in Chicago. Her cooking philosophy closely follows the core tenets of Mediterranean cookery: Cook simple dishes in accordance with the seasons (often using lot’s of extra virgin olive oil) that beckon people to the table to sip and savor together. She’s had the tremendous good fortune to work in some of the most inspiring restaurants in the world — including Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Chez Panisse, Monteverde, and the Rome Sustainable Food Project in Italy, a project spear-headed by Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse team. She believes in the transcendent power of the shared table, which informs both her cooking and her writing about food. You can read more of her writing at briannabond.wordpress.com. In her free time, Brianna volunteers as a chef-instructor with A Recipe for Change at the Cook County Jail and as a care companion for hospice patients with JourneyCare.