Easier ways to chop chicken?
October 26, 2010 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I adore chicken salad, but I hate chopping. What gadgets, appliances, or techniques can I use to streamline the process of finely cubing cooked chicken breasts?

I like to make a very classic mayonnaise-based chicken salad, with celery, onion and almonds, using chopped (not shredded or ground) boiled chicken. We are also a very pro-chicken-salad family, so I have to make it in large batches, often using as many as 10-15 breasts at a time. That's a whole lot of solid protein to convert into half-inch cubes, and the chopping often takes me 45 minutes or more to complete. I use a good chef's knife and what seems like a fairly intuitive cutting technique (fillet the cooked breast, then cut into rods, then cut crosswise into cubes), but it's still a colossal, time-consuming pain in the rear that makes me not want to make chicken salad as much as I otherwise might.

I use my trusty and well-beloved Cuisinart food processor to prep the other ingredients, but I haven't had much luck getting it to chop chicken. Since the cooked breasts are solid but not crisp, the standard blade tends to bounce them around and shave bits off them, yielding a nasty mix of huge unchopped chicken chunks and fine chicken puree. I've looked around to see if they offer any protein-specific specialty blades, but haven't found anything yet.

This seems like such a simple cooking problem, so it's hard to believe, in our entrepreneurial era, that someone out there hasn't found and marketed a solution. Any ideas? Should I be trying a mandoline, for instance? A food mill? Something else entirely different?
posted by Bardolph to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you waiting until the breasts are cold? Not just cool enough to handle, but day-in-the-fridge cold. It's a lot easier to chop them then.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:18 AM on October 26, 2010

I think a mandoline is going to shave your chicken or pull out pieces of it. Have you considered something along the lines of a SlapChop? You'd probably only be able to do 1 breast at a time, but it should only take a few seconds per breast.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:20 AM on October 26, 2010

Chef's knives are better at slicing than chopping. Use a cleaver. Get a Dexter cleaver from a store that sells Chinese cooking utensils.

15 breasts in 45 minutes is 3 minutes per breast. I have no idea how it can take longer than one minute to cube a chicken breast. Are you using boneless breasts?
posted by twblalock at 9:20 AM on October 26, 2010

Why not buy finely cubed cooked chicken breast? You can buy it in supermarkets.
posted by Biru at 9:22 AM on October 26, 2010

I agree with cobaltnine. The best time to chop chicken is when the breasts are 1/3 thawed from the freezer. The rods/cubes method is what I use, but it should never take 3 minutes to accomplish.

The second best time to chop chicken is when the breasts are fully cooked. Could you trim them, bake them and then cut into cubes?

I would say the sloppiest/worst time to chop chicken is when it's raw and only chilled from the fridge.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:23 AM on October 26, 2010

Perhaps this chopper would work? It's meant for onions and other veggies, but I would imagine it could handle chicken too. You'd still have to fillet the cooked chicken breast if you wanted cubes as opposed to rectangles, but this could handle the rest.
posted by pluckemin at 9:30 AM on October 26, 2010

I'm in the shred it camp. Not only is it way faster, the ragged edges of shredded chicken pick up and hold the deliciousness of the salad goop better than their cubed brethren. Could you make one batch with the shredded chicken breasts and see how your family responds? If it's a no-go, the silly slap-chop gadget might be your best bet.
posted by phunniemee at 9:31 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

My solution (works only for previously de-boned breasts): 1 hour before chopping, freeze the raw chicken breasts. They will be easier to handle and chop. Dice, cook, cool, mix, enjoy.
posted by YamwotIam at 10:02 AM on October 26, 2010

I'd use a cleaver on cold cooked chicken breasts. Whacking with a cleaver is way faster than using a chef's knife.
posted by advicepig at 10:18 AM on October 26, 2010

Maybe split the difference/. Shred half using the two forks method (two forks, pull in different directions, you get nice long shreds). Take the other half, separate from the bone, whir in the food processor a few pulses, doing so in smaller batches so you don't get that half big chunks half puree problem you're describing.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:32 AM on October 26, 2010

Have you tried the chopper? (which pales in comparison to Greg Nog's device . . . wow)
posted by theredpen at 10:47 AM on October 26, 2010

Ever tried a really coarsely chopped chicken salad?

It's way less work, and IMO the texture is way better. Not just the chicken either, but also all the veggies... large chunks, think sugar cube size, give or take a bit.
posted by utsutsu at 11:27 AM on October 26, 2010

I use a miniature food processor to do mine. Don't put a lot of meat in at a time, and pulse.

Works for me, anyhow.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:14 PM on October 26, 2010

I would not do this with a chef's knife. I don't really like cleavers, either. I use a santoku-style knife - pressing down through the chicken, not slicing it - and it takes no more than a minute per breast, especially if it's cold.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:59 PM on October 26, 2010

The Nicer Dicer? (I don't have one, but I do watch too much late-night TV at my parents' house.)
posted by peagood at 6:41 PM on October 26, 2010

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