If there is a single food that speaks to how we Americans eat in the early 21st century, it is rotisserie chicken.
It’s convenient. It’s delicious. It’s surprisingly inexpensive. It’s absolutely packed full of sodium. And it is an excellent way of putting a hot meal on the table without having to do any additional cooking.
But what if you want to do the additional cooking? Or to put it another way, what if you’re tired of eating rotisserie chicken straight out of the container and you want to jazz it up a little?
I set out to use rotisserie chickens as a base for other dishes. Basically, I used them as I would use leftovers, only I didn’t have to do the initial cooking. It’s like first-generation leftovers.
In the spirit of buying an already-cooked dish, I decided to start with a recipe that makes use of prepared foods. It’s what I think of as the Sandra Lee approach.
I made Amy’s Chicken Pot Pie, which was suggested by a colleague for whom rotisserie chicken is a standard ingredient. Not only is the chicken premade, but you also use a refrigerated pie crust. And frozen mixed vegetables.
With so much work done before you start, it barely feels like cooking. But it tastes almost as good as if you had done all the prep work yourself.
Still, it is not entirely work-free. For the filling, I sautéed the frozen mixed vegetables with some chopped onion and then added a combination of chicken broth, milk and a dash of sherry, thickened with flour.
Cream instead of milk would have made it richer, and more sherry would have made it more elegant. But when you start with a rotisserie chicken, you shouldn’t have too many pretensions.
My next dish was even easier, though it used fewer premade items. Quesadillas are the great catch-all for cleaning out your refrigerator, so I made one with a rotisserie chicken.
You don’t want too many competing flavors in your quesadilla; this is a food that is best when it is kept simple. All I did was sauté together some onions, green peppers and mushrooms. I added the chicken just before assembling the quesadillas themselves.
There is a trick to making a great quesadilla, but it literally only takes one extra minute and adds less than 40 calories: Heat a teaspoon of oil in the skillet and place a tortilla in the hot oil for one minute. Remove that tortilla before replacing it with the other tortilla, to which you then add the filling and the cheese (store-bought shredded cheese makes it easier).
Then you place the first tortilla oil-side up on top and mash it down with your spatula. When the bottom tortilla is nicely mottled with golden-brown spots, flip the whole thing and cook until the cheese is melted.
It is wonderfully satisfying. And it is even more satisfying when you serve it with salsa.
My other two dishes were a bit more complicated, though not much. One was a chicken tortilla soup, which packs a lot of flavor into a hearty bowl.
This soup is full of all the things that make Hispanic cooking so irresistible. It has onions, garlic, jalapeños, tomatoes, black beans, limes and cilantro in it as well as the chicken, and it is garnished with strips of a tortilla and wedges of an avocado.
I even forgot to add the shredded Monterrey cheese, and nobody complained. It tasted just right the way it was. It was light and delicious.
For my last dish, I made Szechuan Noodles with Chicken, a rotisseried version of a familiar Chinese staple (at least in American restaurants of the 1980s).
I occasionally make a version of this dish that I absolutely adore, but then I saw that Ina Garten had a vegetarian recipe that was a bit more complex in ingredients and flavor. I’ve learned that you can usually trust Ina Garten, so I decided to try it.
Among the many ingredients are six cloves of garlic and ¼ cup of ginger. I was taken aback when I saw those amounts; even for a full pound of spaghetti, that is an awful lot of garlic and ginger. But then I looked at some of the reviews of the dish, and the few that were negative all complained that it was bland.
I’m guessing the people who didn’t like it skimped on the garlic and ginger, and maybe on the other ingredients, too. When prepared as directed (with a couple of minor changes by me, such as adding chicken), this is a powerfully flavored recipe to keep and serve to your friends.
You can even tell them you cooked the chicken yourself.