Chicken for babies
October 18, 2010 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Help a pescetarian learn to prepare yummy, idiot-proof chicken. Y'know, for kids.

I am a content vegequarian. However, Mrs. Gnutron and I have decided not to impose any of our dietary restrictions on Baby Gnutron (15 mos).

So while I haven't cooked chicken for myself in more than 15 years, I would like to start making some simple, yummy chicken dishes for my kid.

A few weeks back we were visiting friends and baby was nomming on some juicy, stringy Mexican-style chicken that I assume was very tender and flavorful. (It may have been simmered in some sort of tomato-based sauce or broth?) When I simply roast a chicken breast in the oven, baby has no interest in the dry bland meat that results.

So baby definitely prefers tasty food. Please share some non-complicated recipes for making delicious tender chicken that my kid will want to cram in her face.
posted by gnutron to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Don't cook chicken breast. Dark meat is what has all the flavor. And babies need fat. Go for the thighs!
posted by elsietheeel at 3:49 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk is seriously awesome. Relatively easy to make, hard to screw up, and so-so good. Depending on how strictly vegetarian you are, you'll probably like the roasted garlic bits that result. The resulting milk/chicken juice is also good on mashed potatoes. NB: When I make it I omit the butter.
posted by phunniemee at 3:49 PM on October 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

Hainanese chicken looks a little bland and unappetizing, but is anything but. And it's pretty damn easy to make. For a little one, you might want to skip the chile dipping sauce, and if you don't want to cook a whole chicken, you could just do it with a couple of (bone-and-skin-on) thighs and scale down the rest of the recipe.
posted by dersins at 3:52 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, you might also want to maybe try duck. Ducks are chubby (like babies!) so they're more delicious and juicy than chickens.
posted by phunniemee at 3:57 PM on October 18, 2010

Stir fries. They are fun easy, fast and tasty. Kids I know love these over rice. And re which stir fries, I am a fan of every single recipe in Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge, including the chicken recipes.
posted by bearwife at 3:58 PM on October 18, 2010

Seconding the dark meat. Also, I've found that acidic marinades give the most tender results. That might be why your kid liked the tomato cooked chicken so much.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:02 PM on October 18, 2010

If you have boneless breasts, you could try pounding them (in the absence of a meat mallet, you can use a rolling pin or even a wine bottle I think). Dust with a little bit of flour, salt and pepper, then fry on both sides in some olive oil in a hot skillet. Seriously, only ~5 minutes per side, if that. If you are careful to take them out when just done (cut in the middle to check) they won't be dry.

The other thing you can do if you want to make a stew is to not brown the chicken first if you're using boneless pieces. Just put the raw pieces into the stew and let it cook for another 20 minutes or so. I find that it comes out very tender, moreso than if you browned it first. This is especially true for dark meat, like chunks of thigh meat.
posted by cabingirl at 4:02 PM on October 18, 2010

Bread it in panko crumbs! It's a little more involved than just tossing a breast in the oven, but still easy. I cut my chicken breast into fillets or strips, and then dip them into flour, beaten egg, and breadcrumbs (with or without parmesan cheese mixed in) (in that order). Then I pan-fry them or bake them, and eat them with pasta and tomato sauce (chicken parm!), pasta and lemony mustard sauce, or just on their own with dipping sauces.

Chicken dryness vs. tenderness all comes down to cooking time. If you can't perfect the timing (which will be hard if you can't taste the chicken), brining the meat will make it juicier no matter what.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:03 PM on October 18, 2010

Compared to fish, chicken takes forever to absorb flavor, so I vote for dark meat in some sort of marinade (I don't know baby palates to suggest anything specific). Poke the flesh with a knife to make several little quarter-inch holes to take in the flavor.
posted by Neekee at 4:17 PM on October 18, 2010

This is The Best Damned Roast Chicken, ever. The recipe author is sadly no longer with us. May his chicken live on forever.
posted by cyndigo at 4:19 PM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

A quick solution with tons of flavor is to pan roast a chicken breast, the way they're prepared in restaurants. Preheat an oven to 425. Liberally season your chickenn breast with kosher salt, pepper, and some Bell's poultry seasoning (in the yellow box). Heat a tablespoon of oil in an 8" sautee pan until it's just smoking and dropp the breast in, "plump" side down. Let it sizzle away for 5 or 6 minutes, resisting at all costs the urge to touch it, move it, or look under it. Turn the breast over and add some chicken broth to the pan - half a cup is plenty, you want to roast it, not braise it. Toss it into the oven for 35 minutes. Remove, cover with foil, and let rest in it's juice for 10-15 minutes. Serve. Enjoy sight of baby Gnutron devouring.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 5:03 PM on October 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

while many of the recipes offered sound tantalizing (well, some do...) please let me be "that person" who says that fat, salt, sugar and chilis are not ingredients you need to add to food you're feeding to someone that age. That's a good way to develop a picky eater. And for FSM's sake please don't cook her chicken in wine, it doesn't 'cook out' like the old cookbooks say it does.

If you're already giving the baby whole milk... which you should be doing... and your pediatrician says your daughter is within normal ranges and otherwise healthy, you can go with some pretty plain roasted chicken, and make or buy a sauce.

SUPER-EASY CHICKEN: line a narrow, deep pan (like a loaf pan) with aluminum foil, leaving plenty to hang over the edges. Put the chicken in the foil and seal it up tightly. You don't need to add anything. Roast at 400℉ for about 35 minutes (use a meat thermometer, and it should reach 155℉.) You can take the chicken out of the oven, but leave it sealed, for another 10 minutes, and check that it's gotten all the way up to 165℉ which is the NSF specified temperature for safe poultry. Cooking with a thermometer is another way to make sure that the chicken won't get overcooked, and therefore won't dry out.

Kids love to dip their foods in sauces. You can also mix a little cornstarch with some cold water, and mix it into the pan drippings in the foil, (no salt, no butter) and cook it in a saucepan until the sauce is thickened. That's it! This isn't a gourmet sauce, but I can just about promise she's not going to yell out, "If you can't make a beurre blanc, get out of the kitchen, daddy!" If you're not averse to using packaged stuff, you can serve it with applesauce, or buy your favorite brands of salad dressing that you're comfortable with giving to your daughter. This recipe makes chicken versatile enough to serve a few times a week with whatever else she likes to eat, and it will mesh easily with whatever the adults are eating.

Thighs are a good choice because they have only one large bone. legs have lots of weird, fine bones and tendons and other stringy things. Breast cooked in this way will not dry out, but it is admittedly less flavorful.

And thank you for being far-sighted enough to know that you need adequate amounts of animal proteins to help your little girl grow her body and her brain to its fullest potential. WTG Dad!
posted by ChefJoAnna at 5:58 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have a slow cooker? I've recently started putting frozen raw boneless, skinless chicken breasts in there with a small amount of some kind of sauce (such as barbecue sauce or salsa) and then turning it on low for around 7 hours (but it can go longer -- 8 to 9 hours -- if you need it to). It comes out very tender and quite delicious. I will sometimes strain and shred it or sometimes I just serve the pieces with a slotted spoon. Serve with extra warm sauce (freshly made or from the jar, not the cooking liquid) on the side.

If you were starting with thawed chicken, you could cook it for half the time and it would work great. You can see about graduating to homemade simmering sauces if you get comfy with this method, but I totally recommend it for you because it's really minimal work (and minimal chicken interaction) for the cook. I'm sure you could use boneless thighs too.
posted by hansbrough at 6:18 PM on October 18, 2010

I've found that chicken in a slow cooker is tender and moist if you eat it immediately, but it dries out and becomes tough pretty quickly.

I was in a hurry earlier and forgot to mention the Chinese poaching method. Basically you put a whole chicken in a pot of boiling water (although this works for pieces as well), bring it back up to the boil for ten minutes, then turn it off, cover it and leave it for an hour.

Usually there are scallions and spices and some sort of booze in there, but you could probably leave that out for the baby.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:47 PM on October 18, 2010

Here's my favorite ultra-simple chicken recipe. Remove seasonings as necessary to suit your child's tastes:

1. Put 1 Tbsp flour and 2 tsp curry powder in the bottom of a non-stick pan. Heat over medium heat until the curry powder begins to give off an aroma.

2. Add 1 large can of diced tomatoes with their juice; 1-1/2 lbs. boneless, skinned chicken thighs; 3 Tbsp bottled chutney; 1 medium onion, diced finely; and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Stir thoroughly and simmer over medium-low heat until the onion is soft and the chicken thighs are tender.

3. Serve--for adults, over rice, couscous, or some other starch, with any garnishes such as chopped parsley or cilantro that you might want.

I imagine this recipe could be simplified and de-spiced by omitting the curry and chutney, while the flour, tomatoes, chicken, and lemon juice would contribute to producing a tasty stewed chicken with a savory sauce.

I don't have kids, so obviously you should check a recipe like this with strong flavors and spices against your child's tolerances and allergies.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:55 PM on October 18, 2010

baby has no interest in the dry bland meat that results.

How about a nice creamy chicken risotto? Hold the white wine, and stir in some grated parmesan right at the end for some cheesy goodness (or a milder cheese if parmesan is too strong).

Risottos are incredibly simple in concept; they only require near-constant stirring while you're adding the (warm) liquid bit-by-bit to the rice.

A variation is to use risoni, which is rice-shaped pasta. Same technique, just not quite as long as rice for the pasta to cook.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:57 PM on October 18, 2010

I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend a book called First Meals, which provides tons of suggestions and step by step instructions for healthy, simple, age-appropriate foods, broken down by age, meal type, etc.

The author, Annabel Karmel, also has a terrific website including lots of recipes.

These are her home-made chicken nuggets, which are the reason that both adults and toddlers ask for "chicken bits" whenever we have playdate-lunches.
posted by anastasiav at 7:03 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Without going into a full recipe (since I don't have a specific one), another easy technique for cooking chicken is poaching. I've poached boneless, skinless chicken breasts and they came out very moist and delicious. Here is a simple recipe for poaching chicken. And then you can put the chicken in all sorts of other things.
posted by wondermouse at 7:05 PM on October 18, 2010

Roasting a chicken is the easiest thing in the world:
  • Get a whole chicken. Organic usually tastes better and hasn't been injected with saline to artificially inflate the weight, but whatever.
  • Sprinkle salt over the outside and into the cavity. How much is up to you and your kids' palate, but you probably should use just a bit more than you think is necessary. I probably use a couple tablespoons on a medium-sized bird.
  • Roast in an oven 400° F until you can poke the thigh and the juices run clear. if you have a thermometer you're looking for 160° in the deepest part of the thigh.
  • Let the bird cool for about 10-15 minutes before nomnomnom.
Really, it's that simple. Once you get the basic prep down you can guild the lilly — I like to add a bit of butter, maybe some herbs, and stuff the cavity with half a lemon — but all you need is chicken, salt, and heat.
posted by jacobian at 7:07 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pretty much what Jacobian says.
Simon Hopkinson's roast chicken, roast potatoes and bread sauce. Lovely.
posted by Dr.Pill at 7:53 PM on October 18, 2010

Rub chicken generously with a mixture of brown sugar, salt, cayenne, smoked paprika and cinnamon. Cook in slow cooker on low for 8 hours.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:22 PM on October 18, 2010

A whole chicken, that is.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:22 PM on October 18, 2010

You could also try poached chicken. It's extremely simple to make and the meat you end up with is tender and full of flavour.
Once the bird has cooked and cooled a little you can pull the meat off the carcass by hand (very easy). Then you can add whatever other flavours you want. I usually go for some kind of mayonnaise or pesto. Serve with rice, fries, cous cous, or potatoes. Here's a recipe.

A delicious stock is a byproduct of this method - perfect for chicken soup.
posted by jonesor at 3:11 AM on October 19, 2010

The secret to moist chicken (on the bone, off the bone, white meat, dark meat) is using a brine. A basic brine is salt, water, and sugar. You can get creative by adding spices, garlic, herbs etc. to the brine as well, so when it is doing it's briney magic it is also carrying flavor into the meat of the chicken.

It gives you a much larger "perfectly done" window. It takes much longer for the meat to dry out, imparts great flavor, and basically makes cooking chicken fool proof. One thing to watch out for though is if you do brine, be very careful about how much salt you add when you cook the chicken. I usually don't add any after a good brine, but if I bread the chicken I may add some salt to the breading mixture.
posted by Kimberly at 2:09 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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