13 Chicken Recipes That Make the Best Meals
Chickens weren’t always breaded and fried or tied up, stuffed and roasted. Slathering pieces of the bird in sauce and roasting them over charcoal is a tradition only several-hundred years old. In fact, chickens were first domesticated not for food but for fighting.
While Ancient Romans became the first culture to really put chicken to hearth — i.e., to eat the damn thing — the delicacy of chicken faded with the empire. Even as recently as the 1800s, chicken was not widely consumed in the United States. But now it’s the most popular meat choice among Americans, and chickens worldwide outnumber humans by more than two to one.
Chicken’s popularity has become quite evident in the food world. With countless preparations, it’s a wonderful canvas for culinary innovation. And whether you prefer white or dark meat, there’s usually something for everyone in a chicken dinner. So, let’s check out these chicken recipes that share some new and old ways to prepare the humble bird.
Chicken Vardano, a Roman Delicacy
We thought it appropriate to start with an ancient Roman recipe from the original gourmand, Marcus Gavius Apicius. He was like that person we all know who always gives unprompted dining recommendations and has an ongoing list of Michelin-starred restaurants that he somehow manages to afford to visit monthly. Apicius lived mostly in the 1st century and, though impossible to prove, he is credited with writing the Roman cookbook “De Re Coquinaria,” better known simply as “Apicius.” It’s full of culinary treasures, some odd and very dated and others that stand up pretty well to the modern palate.
In the section devoted to “poultry that cannot fly,” we find one of those latter dishes: Chicken Vardano. Here’s a simple-to-prepare translation of the dish, which is essentially braised chicken parts in a mixture of red wine, leeks, coriander seeds, savory, pine nuts and hard-boiled eggs. It an easy weeknight meal for the whole family that brings a piece of history to the table.
Cornell Chicken, a Study in Poultry Preparation
When it comes to barbecue, pork and beef are serious business. Grilled chicken, however, has never caused decades-long family rifts as far as we know. There is one particular barbecue chicken recipe that we’re going to crown king, and unless you’re from Upstate New York, you’ve likely never heard of it.
Cornell Chicken is the brainchild of Robert Baker, a Cornell University food scientist who is better known for creating the chicken nugget, turkey ham and poultry hot dog. A true lover of birds that barely fly, in 1950, he developed his signature picnic centerpiece as part of a how-to guide for building a makeshift barbecue and setting up the assembly line so everyone gets a hot drumstick or thigh.
But the only thing you really need from Baker is the recipe for his white barbecue sauce. It’s a humble mixture of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, poultry seasoning and egg that elevates the meat to new heights when cooked over charcoal. Here’s an easier-to-digest version of the recipe that advises a two-hour marinade. That’s fine, but the longer it sits in the sauce the more flavor it will have. We’ve had success with up to eight hours of marination.
Spicy Big Tray Chicken, the Stuff of Legends
The earliest-known chicken domestication site was found in China a few years ago and dates back 10,000 years, so it’s no wonder Chinese cuisine is loaded with poultry dishes. One of those is from the Henan region of eastern China and is the signature dish at the Lian family’s Spicy Village restaurant in New York City's Chinatown. Served with hand-pulled noodles, it comes out on a giant metal tray. And while that aligns with the name of the dish, it does nothing to describe it’s flavor profile. In a word, it’s spicy — but it’s the amazing depth of spice that has made this dish a sought-after Chinatown legend.
Lucky for us, Mark Bittman of The New York Times provides a recipe for the home chef. It’s definitely a challenging one, but if you don’t live in or near NYC then you should give it a try. Some of the ingredients will be hard to find, so plan ahead. And definitely do not substitute or skip the Sichuan peppercorns, which give the dish its quintessential mouth-numbing quality.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken, an Indulgence Worth the Effort
We’re guessing “fried chicken” is the most popular chicken recipe out there, but we’re going to recommend this particular one because Thomas Keller claims it’s the best fried chicken he’s ever had. And since Mr. Keller is one of the world’s most-renowned chefs, we’ll trust him here. Among Keller’s high-end restaurant empire is a low-key family-style outpost in Yountville, California, called Ad Hoc, and he has a cookbook called “Ad Hoc at Home” that contains this recipe.
Many buttermilk fried chicken recipes call for marinating the chicken in buttermilk because it contains more acid than regular milk and is thus a great meat tenderizer. Keller’s recipe, however, has us brining the chicken in a salty and flavor-packed solution for hours. The buttermilk then aids in helping the coating stick to the meat. The result is something you won’t soon forget.
Bottom-Up Cooked Chicken, a Trick That Packs Flavor
In Paul Bertolli’s “Cooking By Hand,” he devotes a good portion of the tome to what he calls “bottom-up cooking.” The idea is that, if done correctly, what’s left in the pan after sauteing meat or vegetables will form the base for a rich and succulent sauce. And if the meat you use is chicken, it will also produce a caramelized and crispy skin that shatters beautifully with each bite. Texture can be everything in food, and this simple method produces that in spades.
The beauty of this method is how little you need to do to achieve something sublime. Cooking oil is not necessary, but patience pays off — it takes about an hour total to cook the chicken. We recommend sticking with thighs only here, as they have a nice layer of skin and can handle long cooking. Drumsticks also work, but avoid breasts. Once the chicken is done, you can be really creative with the sauce. Butter, alcohol and herbs will go a long way here.
Baking Soda Chicken Wings, a Strange but Effective Technique
What we love most about this recipe is that it turns a long-held notion about frying chicken on its head. No, deep frying is not required to get a perfectly crispy and crunchy chicken wing. Patience and baking powder will do just fine. Yes, baking powder. The salt and baking powder in this recipe will extract moisture from the skin of the wings if left uncovered overnight in the fridge. Skin without moisture crisps up really nicely, thus eliminating the need for deep frying.
The sauce used in the recipe is fine, but if you want to get creative check out these options. And we recommend using an aluminum-free baking powder to avoid any off-putting flavors in the finished product.
Sheet Pan Chicken, a Quick Solution to Dinner
There’s nothing quite like a home-cooked meal, but sometimes, at the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is fill your kitchen with dishes and spend time in front of a hot stove. Enter the sheet pan dinner.
We’re particularly fond of our sheet pans, whether they contain dinner or dessert. And if we can use just one dish for a well-balanced meal, we feel like a kitchen hero. It’s hard to go wrong with ingredients when doing the sheet pan method, but hearty root vegetables tend to do best, as do cauliflower and broccoli. Elevate tomatoes by getting some caramelization going, and don’t be afraid of onions, as they too benefit from their sugars getting roasted.
Here’s a tasty recipe to get you started on sheet pan cooking. The key here is to not crowd the sheet pan too much and to cook things in stages, since your chicken is going to take much longer than your broccoli.
Chicken Tikka Masala, a Rich and Luscious Bite
Brits are so enamored with this Indian staple that it’s unofficially the U.K.’s national dish, which adds up since this region is known more for “The Great British Baking Show” than fine dining. And chicken tikka is a true gem worthy of any dinner table. This recipe takes it up a notch with a long bath in full-fat Greek yogurt and Indian spices, with the yogurt’s lactic acid tenderizing the meat while imbuing it with big flavor from the spices. Pass the naan and rice, and we’re coming over for dinner.
The backbone for tikka sauce is garam masala, one of the most common Indian spice mixtures. It’s easy to find in well-stocked grocery stores, and you can even make it yourself if you’re going to cook other Indian dishes in the near future (spices lose their potency in just a few months). It generally consists of cumin, coriander, cardamom, mace, cinnamon and cloves.
Chicken Souvlaki, a Heavenly Stick of Goodness
Chicken souvlaki is a Greek staple, especially if you’re living in a predominantly Greek neighborhood. It’s a kebab that combines the tang of lemon with the char of the grill and the earthy bite of oregano. Wrap it all up in a warm pita with veggies and drizzle on a good amount of tzatziki sauce, and in a word, it’s delightful.
A great souvlaki, however, is nothing without a zippy tzatziki, and this recipe does justice to both. Pronounced “sat-see-key,” it’s like the salsa of Greek food. Commonly, it’s a mixture of thick yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, and lemon juice. Don’t be ashamed if you find yourself slurping up the remnants after devouring the souvlaki.
Chicken and Rice Soup, a Bowl of Soul
There’s a really good reason Jack Canfield didn’t name his famous self-help book after crab bisque or white bean stew. While both of those soups are fantastic in their own right, they don’t hold a candle to a steaming hot bowl of chicken soup. This magical elixir can do wonders to the mind and body, and there are so many wonderful ways to prepare it. You could spend two days just making the stock, but we’re going to supply you with a family-friendly version that’s a breeze to prepare and gets kicked up to 11 with a special addition.
Bon Appetit’s recipe is fairly standard with rice, chicken, kale and dill taking their rightful places in the bowl. But then you top the whole thing with a pungent homemade garlic chili oil, and suddenly, the palate is singing, while you’re left feeling warm and satisfied like only a good chicken soup can accomplish.
Chicken Chili Verde, a Piquant Taste of Mexico
Growing up, your dad or mom may have shared their signature chili verde recipe with you. It was the only time you’d eat cilantro as a kid, and pairing it with a couple of cheese quesadillas was the key to your heart. In adulthood, the pork is replaced with chicken and rice subs for the quesadillas. We also toss a bunch of avocado cubes on top and, because of palate progression, a big handful of freshly chopped cilantro. A drizzle of sour cream is optional but almost always included. Food & Wine’s recipe perfectly evokes that childhood memory.
The key to a zesty and piquant chili verde is the verde part, which comes via tomatillos and poblano peppers. Tomatillos look like tiny unripe tomatoes, but they’re not even related. Native to Mexico, they are tangy and slightly sweet, making a terrific base for salsas and sauces.
Chicken Adobo, a Phillipine Original
There’s some confusion surrounding this potent sauce that Filipinos use for all manner of meat and veggies. But it does predate colonial times in the island nation, and yes, Spain and Portugal also have an adobo cooking method. The Filipino version, however, reigns supreme.
Its mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and pepper creates the perfect trifecta — a marinade, sauce and braising liquid all in one. As described by The New York Times in its recipe, adobo’s elegance is in the balance of those strong flavors. Their recipe adds coconut milk, likely to cut through the intensity, but that is not traditional. For something more authentic, try Vikalinka’s version. It incorporates a few veggies and has a shorter marination time, but doesn’t skimp on the flavor.
Beer Can Chicken, a Crazy Idea That Really Works
We thought it appropriate to end our ode to chicken with one of the absolute easiest preparations of poultry you will ever encounter, and perhaps the crudest. Bon Appetit’s recipe says it all: a can of light beer, a 4-pound chicken and a spice rub. They provide a spice rub recipe as well, but you’d be fine with salt and pepper, Lawry’s salt seasoning or your rub of choice. The barbecue imparts most of the flavor here, and yes, so does the beer.
This dish was built for a lazy summer afternoon when you’d rather play with the kids or converse with your picnic guests. It'll make you grateful for the crazy soul who had the idea to shove a can of beer into the cavity of a chicken and prop it up over charcoal.