Better Than Meal Kit Chicken—when you just need dinner
Some recipes take all day to make and challenge you to perfect your technique—Better than Meal Kit Chicken is not one of those recipes. Nope, this is your back-pocket recipe to get dinner on the table fast after you stayed up too late the night before and had ten Zoom meetings. You’re tired, you’re starving, and you just want your damn dinner (feel free to jump to the recipe!).
I didn’t have enough fast and easy recipes
A few years back, I realized something about my cooking skills—I had mastered complicated recipes, and I could put on full, lovely meals. However, I had a real gap in my repertoire: I did not have enough fast weeknight recipes that were still food. I mean, sure, steak’s fast, and so are omelets. There’s also duck breasts. Basic pastas. Fish.
But one can’t eat steak and duck every night and come out of it with functioning arteries and a bank balance. Pasta is not a main course. Fish is delicious, but it makes the whole apartment smell (also, bank balance). And, as lovely as an omelet is with a nice salad and a crisp white, who wants eggs every night?
An experiment with meal kits
I relied a lot on takeout on those nights when I just couldn’t bring myself to cook, and that wasn’t healthy or affordable, either. So, I decided to learn how to get dinner on the table fast. I called it Mastering the Art of Crappy Cooking, which wasn’t true—I still cooked well—but it made me laugh, which was important.
To get started on my fast cooking meal journey, I took advantage of a whole host of introductory deals to meal kits. I tried almost every one out there, and some more than once when they offered “come back” deals.
They worked … if you know how to doctor them
I liked the sensible ingredient portions—buying groceries as a single person can lead to a ton of food waste. And some of the dishes, when doctored a bit with better cooking techniques or an extra ingredient or two, tasted really good.
In particular, I really liked the chicken dishes. And I discovered an appreciation for garlic and onion granules that I didn’t have before. I learned some quick ways to get a decent, complete meal on the table.
However, absent the introductory deals (and even then), meal kits are very expensive. They also have way too much packaging, much of it single-use plastic. I didn’t need a kit to make a quick meal after a while; I figured out how to do it myself, and better.
Meal kits make some mistakes when it comes to chicken
Meal kit chicken recipes rely on sauces to carry the flavor. And some of those sauces are really ,really good, and they use correct techniques to create them. However, the chicken itself, if you just took a bite of it is bland and boring, and, if cooked as directed, runs the risk of being a bit dry. The recipes as written do two things wrong:
- They don’t call for bringing the chicken to room temperature before cooking
- They don’t season the meat until just before cooking
Those are costly mistakes when it comes to flavor, and it doesn’t take that much more time or effort to rectify them.
How to correct them
This recipe shows you how. Pull the chicken out of the fridge about a half hour before you want to start cooking (you could get your side and veggie going), and give the chicken a quick marinade as it comes to room temperature. This results in chicken that cooks more evenly and doesn’t dry out. Sprinkle a little of the spice mix (you’ll only use half) on boiled potatoes and add a pat of butter, and you’ll have a tasty side dish. Note that you could just sprinkle all the marinade ingredients on the chicken and just mix things up if you’re feeling especially lazy.
Use chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts
I’m also making a plea here to substitute boneless skinless chicken thighs over the ubiquitous boneless skinless chicken breasts here. Thighs simply taste better. However, this works for chicken breasts, too. Either way, don’t buy the individually packaged ones. Get a package of eight, cook two (may as well have some leftovers if you’re going to spend time cooking—these are great in salads), and then freeze the rest in portions of two. You’ll save a bunch of money.
Finally, use more fat in cooking, and drain it off at the end before saucing. Meal kit recipes try to minimize steps, and don’t have you drain the fat off before making the sauce. This step takes seconds, and it means that you have more in the pan to keep things from drying out.
Think of this recipe like a template
This is a template recipe. A simple white wine reduction gives you a classic chicken dish, and the bonus recipe jam-based sauces (my biggest takeaway from my meal kit days) in the Wonder & Sundry Recipe Box will have you licking your plate. Subscribe for access!
You could also add a little lemon zest and cream to the wine reduction and use it for pasta (throw in some spinach leaves, too).
This chicken’s also tasty just the way it is. A little chopped parsley, maybe a squeeze of lemon, and you could skip the sauce and dine happily.
Better than Meal Kit Chicken
Spice Mix (you'll use about half)
- 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt use about half if you're using Morton's. This is to taste, but do be sure to salt your chicken
- ⅛ tsp garlic granules
- ⅛ tsp onion granules
- ⅛ tsp mild paprika
- fresh ground black pepper a couple of twists
For the Quick Marinade
- ½ tsp Spice Mix alternatively, you can just sprinkle the above directly over your chicken. I usually do that
- juice of half a small lemon
- splash of neutral oil
- 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs can substitute boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tbsp butter
- neutral oil, generous splash this ensures that you can cook with sufficient heat
- chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley, for garnish
Simple Wine Reduction
- 1 tsp minced shallot
- ¼ cup dry white wine you can use red if that's what you have
- 1 sprig thyme, optional think about ½ teaspoon of chopped rosemary or a small sprig of thyme
- About 30 minutes before cooking, mix the ingredients for the marinade (or just apply it directly to the chicken), and pour it over the chicken, ensuring that it gets evenly coated. Let the chicken come to room temperature as it marinades.1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt, ⅛ tsp garlic granules, ⅛ tsp onion granules, ⅛ tsp mild paprika, fresh ground black pepper, juice of half a small lemon, splash of neutral oil, 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
- When ready to cook, add the butter and oil to a skillet over medium heat. Scrape the marinade off the chicken (you don't have to be overly diligent about this) and blot the chicken pieces dry with paper towels1 tbsp butter, neutral oil, generous splash
- Add chicken to the skillet (it should sizzle) and cook for about 4 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook for another 4 minutes or so, basting the chicken pieces with fat from the pan. Insert a meat thermometer, and continue to cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. You may want to lower the heat, and, depending on the thickness of your chicken, you may even want to flip the chicken pieces again to ensure even cooking
- When finished cooking, turn off the heat, remove the chicken to a plate and tent with foil. Let rest ten minutes as you make one of the optional sauces below. Serve either with sauce, or as-is, garnished with parsley
Simple Wine Reduction
- Drain all but a tiny bit fat from the pan, leaving any bits that have stuck to the bottom. Turn the heat up to medium-high (this will depend on your pan. I use Le Creuset, and I tend to just use medium once the pan has gotten hot)
- Add the shallots and cook, stirring for about a minute. Watch that they don't blacken, but they will pick up color from the bits1 tsp minced shallot
- Add the wine and thyme (if using), and cook, stirring to get the bits off the bottom of the pan, until the wine has reduced to a syrupy texture. Remove the thyme sprig and turn off heat. If using the butter, add, and stir quickly to incorporate. Serve chicken topped with sauce and garnished with parsley1 tbsp butter, ¼ cup dry white wine, 1 sprig thyme, optional, chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley, for garnish