Table for One

How to Take Chicken Breasts From Frozen to Shredded in an Instant

This week, Table for One columnist Eric Kim turns again to his favorite kitchen appliance.

by:
October 25, 2019
Photo by James Ransom. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


With all the solo cooking I do in my day to day, it can be hard to buy just the right amount of ingredients for any given recipe. But there is, for me, something so curiously satisfying about procuring only what I need for a single serving, and nothing more. An eggplant, a lemon, and a sprig of mint for a salad; a perfect boneless, skin-on duck breast from the butcher; a half-pound of shrimp for nights when all I want to eat is shrimp. No leftovers.

It’s not just for the reduction of waste that this kind of small-scale grocery shopping is useful; it’s for my appetite and creativity, as well. When I can, I enjoy cooking something new each night, especially when I’m the one who has to eat it. Sometimes I’ll force myself to finish a plate of food, even when I’m full, if only because I’m excited to cook the next thing, and the thing after that. (It doesn’t help, either, that I have incredibly scrawny arms, which means carrying groceries up and down the stairs of the New York City transit is particularly difficult for me.)

Of course, this kind of thrifty behavior isn’t always possible. Leftovers are inevitable: days and days of my favorite soup, for instance, or the simple pleasures of roasting an entire chicken for myself. The truth of the matter is that cooking for one is a strategic skill one can learn, not just a question of portion size. I know this now after years of cooking for myself in my tiny New York kitchen.

This is where my freezer comes especially in handy. It’s become what I consider my second pantry—like for when I marinate more kalbi meat than I can eat, or for when I’m unable to go through all that leftover beef stroganoff I made for a dinner party last Sunday. Or for when I buy too many chicken breasts.

Because as much as a single chicken breast is—at least in my world—the perfect solo portion, it can be difficult to buy just one at the store. How many times have you seen an individually packaged breast at your local supermarket? Though this kind of product is becoming more readily available in American grocery stores these days (Perdue and Costco both sell perfectly wrapped singleton chicken breasts), even those are packaged as a group, sold as a set of five or six.

But what of us loners who only need one?

Individually wrapped chicken breasts are a hot commodity in American grocery stores today. Photo by Perdue, Costco

Sure, I’d love to saunter over to my favorite heritage-farm butcher at Chelsea Market on any given weeknight to pick up a single breast, but more often than not my reality is a little less deliberate. I get off work, take the train home, and realize I haven’t thought about dinner yet. There’s a giant Foodtown up where I live—and I love it for its warehouse selection—but the one thing it does not house is a butcher who can carve me just one chicken breast. What it does have is a wall of white meat (usually packets of two or three breasts), and 9 out of 10 times, I’ll buy them as my protein for the week.

I’ll haul my groceries home, take a chef’s knife to the plastic casing of the package, and slice through to release a single breast. The others I’ll slip into a bag and store in the freezer for nights two and three and—if I’m lucky—four.

For moments like these, when I have boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my freezer, I like to make a batch of shredded chicken in the Instant Pot—straight from frozen—and turn it into all manner of meals throughout the week: tacos, enchiladas, chicken salad, and (my favorite) BBQ sandwiches. This means that I still get to cook a little and eat something new each day, even though I’ve done most of the prepwork ahead of time.

In the Instant Pot, there's no need to thaw chicken breasts before pressure-cooking them. Photo by James Ransom. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

How to Make Instant Pot Shredded Chicken

Makes: 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts (usually about 2)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup chicken broth, or 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon chicken base plus 1 cup water
  • Quick BBQ Sauce, recipe follows (optional)

Directions

  1. Place frozen chicken breasts in the Instant Pot. Season with salt and cumin, and pour in the broth.
  2. Cover with lid and pressure-cook on high for 12 minutes, then let pressure release naturally for 10 minutes. (If you’re cooking from fresh or thawed chicken breasts, then pressure-cook on high for 6 minutes.)
  3. Uncover, carefully remove the breasts from the Instant Pot with tongs, then place them onto a cutting board and shred into pieces with two forks. (Sometimes before shredding, I like to cut the chicken in half lengthwise, against the grain, to shorten the strands first, which makes for softer meat in the end.)
  4. Serve with optional BBQ sauce below or use as you wish throughout the week.
Instant Pot shredded chicken tastes great slathered in homemade BBQ sauce and tucked into a roll. Photo by James Ransom. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Quick BBQ Sauce

  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pinch kosher salt

Whisk together all the ingredients and transfer to a small dish to serve with the chicken. Makes about 1/2 cup.

How do you make shredded chicken? Let us know in the comments below.
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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

11 Comments

Mike E. November 2, 2019
I’ll often poach chicken breasts (fresh or frozen) with chicken broth in the Instant Pot for salads, etc. Bonus: the remaining poaching liquid makes a tasty base for a quick bowl of soup with leftover rice and cooked veggies.
 
SandraH October 28, 2019
I don’t have an Instant Pot but am saving this recipe “just in cases” (quote from Love Actually). Thanks for the quick BBQ sauce recipe as well!
If I have a bit of leftover chicken, a cheese pizza in the freezer and some red onion and bell pepper in the fridge, I’ll sauté red onion slices for several minutes, throw in some chopped red or whatever colour pepper to sauté with the onion some more, then will toss leftover chicken (shredded or chopped) with some BBQ sauce and layer the sautéed red onion, bell pepper and chicken over a frozen cheese pizza with add’l shredded Mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese if I have, then bake it in the oven per frozen pizza guidelines for a BBQ Chicken Pizza treat!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 28, 2019
You could just as easily make this on the stove. :) The BBQ chicken pizza idea is so grand; stealing that.
 
Michelle October 28, 2019
I usually buy the big packs of chicken breasts at Costco and have cooked about 3 pounds of chicken at a time in my Instant Pot. I also use 1 cup of chicken broth and have cooked both thawed and frozen breasts (12 minutes and 25 minutes). Plenty of the broth remains to moisten the chicken after it cooks. This makes a lot of shredded chicken for minimal effort and is easy to freeze and have at the ready for endless meals.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 28, 2019
Love hearing that you also do this!
 
lloreen October 25, 2019
I like to do this with a tablespoon of sesame oil, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of fish sauce, some chopped garlic and ginger. Maybe some Korean hot sauce of kimchi if I have any. 1/2 cup of water.It makes a really flavorful shredded chicken that is great over steamed cauliflower rice with cilantro and green onion. It’s a fast, healthy dinner for one or two. I keep it frozen in baggies.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 25, 2019
Sounds divine.
 
Stephanie B. October 25, 2019
What roll is that/is there a recipe? It looks like a cross between a biscuit and a roll and I'm here for it.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 28, 2019
It's an original biscuit (!) recipe from our food stylist, Anna. I'll bug her for the specs. ;)
 
Bruce October 25, 2019
You put the frozen chicken on the very bottom, or do you lift them off the bottom with the stainless steel rack?

How much juice/fluid is usually left in the bottom? Just throw it out?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 25, 2019
Hi Bruce! Right in the bottom of the IP, no trivet needed. There's usually a good amount of salty cumin-y broth left, which I like to drizzle over the shredded chicken to keep it moist as it sits in the fridge throughout the week.

Hope that helps!