Assembling is an easy and creative cooking method that takes prepared food—from grocery stores, restaurants, or delivery—and turns it into a series of delicious meals. We’ll be showing readers how to do more of it in the coming weeks.
What do you like to do with rotisserie chicken?
For some of you, the answer might be, “I don’t ‘do’ anything with it. I tear it apart and eat it.” Others might say, “Oh, you mean besides finish half of it in the car on the ride home from the store?”
But if you stretch it out right, this cost-effective protein can be used to assemble your next days’ worth of lunches and dinners.
Preparing a meal doesn’t always mean making one from scratch, and “assembling” a meal is a low-stress solution somewhere in between cooking and ordering in. Rotisserie chicken is a great starter tool for meal assembly.
Lots of us find that after that first ravenous meal (in which we’ve picked the chicken apart and eaten all the skin), we don’t know quite what to do with the rest of it, even if there’s still a lot of meat on the bones. In the past, I’ve been guilty of just eating the white meat, which I like best, and ignoring the remainder. That’s a waste of money and opportunity.
Here are some steps to follow for assembling rotisserie chicken meals, including what you might want to buy, and what you can use from your pantry. Each of these can be done as a one-off meal when you buy your chicken, or you can stock up for all these meals at once, since they use a lot of overlapping ingredients.
Before you shop: Take a quick mental survey of what’s in your kitchen. Is there anything in the fridge that could serve as a side dish? Prepared sides are priced by weight at the grocery store, which can get expensive. Meanwhile, if you have any pantry staples like rice, noodles, or instant mashed potatoes, you can make your own sides.
While you shop: Use the money you would’ve spent on prepared dishes to grab some fresh vegetables or condiments as needed to jazz up your starches for several days in a row.
When you get home: Cook your starch and any desired vegetables. Carve off the amount of chicken you want (with a knife, not your fingers, although we won’t tell). Plate the chicken and add sides.
Before you shop: How elaborate do you want your bowl to be? Are you really just interested in chicken, rice, and salsa on top, or would you like something more colorful, literally and figuratively? This might include black beans, canned or jarred green chiles, or jalapenos.
While you shop: Rice can often be found at the grocery store’s salad bar, if you’re not feeling up to cooking it yourself. It’s light enough that it shouldn’t be too pricey, and many places have both brown and white. Salsa, cheese, and sour cream can usually be found at the salad bar as well.
When you get home: Shred a portion of the rotisserie chicken into small pieces. (Here’s a chicken-shredding hack if you need one.) Make the rice (or take the rice you bought) and layer it in a bowl with the chicken, black beans, salsa, cheese, jalapenos, and sour cream. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Before you shop: Do you have tortillas and/or chips available already? If not, you’ll have to buy them—but you can freeze extra tortillas so they won’t go bad.
While you shop: Again, if you don’t feel like buying a whole tub of sour cream or a bag of shredded cheese, find these toppings in small quantities at the salad bar. Or, try slaw from the deli with cilantro and lime juice. (If you buy a bag of tortilla chips, know that some of the cheaper brands might not be in the snack chip aisle, but in an international foods aisle.)
When you get home: Shred the chicken, warm the tortillas, and fill them as tacos or roll them as burritos with the desired ingredients.
Before you shop: Make sure you have either rice or rice noodles in your pantry. Do you have interesting sauces on hand to make this a satisfying meal? Maybe you have the ingredients (such as sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, and/or ginger) to make a sauce yourself. Finally, can you craft a bowl out of any vegetables you already have, or will you need to grab some from our secret weapon, the salad bar?
While you shop: Buy sliced veggies such as pea pods, carrots, and onion from the salad bar, or buy larger quantities in the produce section to use throughout the week (such as on the side for your classic dinner plate meal). Purchase prepared rice if you’re not up to making it; otherwise, restock on uncooked rice as needed.
When you get home: Shred the chicken, make rice or rice noodles, and layer them in the bowl with sliced veggies. Top with more chicken and drizzle with sauce.
Before you shop: What’s already in the kitchen? If you have any nuts, dried fruit, a stray carrot or a quarter of a bell pepper, or even a little leftover rice, you’ve got most of what you need. If you don’t have salad dressing, you can make some (for example, from balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and dijon mustard). The main things you probably don’t have are the greens and the rotisserie chicken.
While you shop: In addition to picking up lettuce and chicken, check if there are any can’t-miss toppings at the salad bar. (An interesting salad is the one you’re most likely to eat.)
When you get home: Shred the chicken, toss with the greens and toppings, then use either a homemade or prepared dressing.
Before you shop: What kind of pasta are you thinking of? Are you craving a hearty sauce, such as marinara, pesto, or Alfredo, or will you be happy with something simple, like olive oil, lemon juice, parmesan, and some herbs? Pasta is a great option because it’s a pantry staple you’re already likely to have. Your trip to the grocery store can determine how you’ll dress it up.
While you shop: Purchase the rotisserie chicken and any vegetables you need, such as sliced mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, or onion. Purchase sauce and cheese if needed. (If you have a grater, buying a small wedge of Parmesan and grating it yourself is cheaper than using the sprinkle stuff, and you can save the rinds to flavor soups.)
When you get home: Make pasta according to package directions, shred the chicken, saute or steam the veggies, and add sauce and cheese as desired. Toss and serve.
Before you shop: Do you have bread or rolls at home? Maybe you bought some a while ago, never finished them, and have them hiding in the freezer. Sandwiches are also a fun excuse to see what you can create without buying anything at all (besides the chicken), so check your cabinets for condiments like barbecue sauce, pickles, potato chips—anything that might be interesting alongside the protein.
While you shop: Check the salad bar for any sandwich toppings, like sliced tomatoes, leaf lettuce, or bacon. Purchase cole slaw or chips as a side.
When you get home: Slice the chicken. Toast the bread and pile with meat, condiments, and toppings. To make barbecue chicken, warm up some barbecue sauce and toss the chicken in it before spooning onto the bread.
Before you shop: Are there any vegetables or fruit that you should use up sooner rather than later? Double-check the pantry for any available rice (or noodles, or spiralized veggies), sauces, and spices.
While you shop: As always, you can purchase cooked rice if you like, and your vegetables can come from the salad bar or the produce section. Fresh herbs will make a big difference, and picking up a small bundle of basil, mint, or cilantro along with your chicken will guarantee a great stir-fry.
When you get home: Make rice or noodles. Meanwhile, cook the veggies in a wok (or if you don’t have one, just a regular pan). Add your choice of sauce, some fresh herbs, and finally the chicken for just a minute or two. Mix. Serve over noodles or rice.
Before you shop: How soupy will this soup be? Do you want more broth than bits, or more bits than broth? Depending on your answer, you might make more or less use of any noodles available in your pantry. Any vegetables on their last legs in the fridge? Check to see if you have any broth.
While you shop: Purchase the chicken and veggies such as bean sprouts, carrots, onion, broccoli, tomato, and fresh herbs like basil or cilantro. Grab chicken broth if you need more, and egg noodles if you want a heftier soup.
When you get home: Warm up the chicken broth on the stove (you can freeze any unused broth for later use). Add spice in the form of ginger, garlic, or dried herbs. Alternatively, flavor the broth with fish sauce, soy sauce, chili, jalapeno, or Creole seasoning. Chop veggies to desired size and add to the broth, and let them cook a few minutes. Add the noodles, and let the noodles cook until they are done. Add chicken and fresh herbs last.
Slice off just the chicken you need for one meal, and pop the rest quickly into the fridge. Don’t leave it sitting out.
If the leftover chicken seems a little dry the next day, shred it, put it on a plate, and add a little chicken broth or the juice from the bottom of the package. Microwave until warm.
For lunches, pack chicken separately from other ingredients in its own plastic bag. Warm it up a bit (30 seconds) before adding it to the rest of your lunch.
I’d love to hear your suggestions for using a rotisserie chicken. Remember that with assembling, we want to keep things as simple as possible.