Food

When in Doubt: Spicy Chicken Pieces

When in Doubt: Spicy Chicken Pieces

Like most of you, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my family, plowing through cookbooks and old favorite recipes. I’m mostly sticking with the kinds of things that reliably bring my family comfort…

…which means, of course, I’m going through chocolate and sugar at a mega fast clip. I’m also revisiting classic family dinners, like what we call “spicy chicken pieces.” I love them because they’re delicious and versatile, and because I can walk into the kitchen without a single dinner idea, pan-fry them up, and know that whatever direction I go from there, everyone in my house will enjoy their dinner.

There’s no official recipe for my spicy chicken pieces. While some olive oil heats in the cast iron skillet,  I slice two* large-ish chicken breasts into one-inch cube like pieces (as shown); I add the chicken and half a small onion (chopped finely, approximately 3 tablespoons) to the pan with salt and pepper, and let them sit still and brown a little. After a minute or two, I toss and sprinkle the pieces with about 2 tablespoons chili powder, a tablespoon of oregano, and a pinch of cayenne. Once the chicken is cooked through and everything looks toasty, I remove to a bowl. Factoring in attrition (at least one daughter, if not two, has plucked a few pieces out of the pan), I now have enough chicken for…

When in Doubt: Spicy Chicken Pieces

…a burrito bowl or salad (shown up top): Squeeze fresh lime juice all over chicken and add to rice or greens along with beans, avocado, salsa, cheese, hot sauce, the usual suspects.
tacos: Stuff into tortillas or shells with avocados and pickled onions.
…enchiladas: If I am feeling ambitious enough to turn on the oven, I’ll shred the chicken a little then wrap in tortillas with cheddar; place seam-side down in baking dish, smother with enchilada sauce, top with more cheese, minced red onion and bake at 375°F for 15-20 minutes.
sandwiches: Toss the chicken (chopped a bit) with lime juice and a little mayo and eat open-face on Finn crisps or crusty bread.

What would you do with them? Always looking for more ideas.

*Note: you can absolutely use more than two chicken breasts (and adjust spices accordingly), but I am in  the meat-as-condiment camp, and find this is enough for my family of four as long as I’m fleshing out dinner with rice, beans, greens, avocado, etc.

P.S. Easy family meals we’ve loved to death and stovetop lasagna.

  1. Katie says...

    Love the expression ‘meat-as-condiment!’ Going to try to adopt this philosophy.

  2. Jenny says...

    https://belleofthekitchen.com/slow-cooker-cilantro-lime-chicken-tacos/
    Very similar, made it tonight with frozen chicken breast, emptied the half jars of salsa from the fridge, and by some miracle, I had fresh cilantro that wasn’t a ball of green slime in a bag in the fridge. We make rice bowls, quesadillas, tacos, burritos, salads, just about anything, it’s so versatile and delicious!!

  3. Meg says...

    Cholula hot sauce was acquired by a private equity firm in 2018, and it made me sad. I guess because it seems like it would be a really cool family owned situation, and it is not. I feel a little Debbie Downer (does anyone care about this?), but in case you would want to prioritize changing your hot sauce during a pandemic, here is your ammunition.

  4. Lorna says...

    We make this all the time at home, sans recipe and just cobbled together with whatever we have at home! My husband introduced me to it: he called it his “boring chicken”, but when we first started dating, and with his thick Brazilian accent, I thought it he was saying “Buherringh Chicken” and assumed it was a fancy recipe from somewhere? Hahaha, nope. Boring chicken!

  5. AE says...

    I love the idea of “meat as a condiment”.

  6. Rani says...

    Do you have to use a cast iron skillet?

    • Laurie says...

      Any skillet should work! Once the chicken is done I would throw in some sliced peppers and onions, zucchini, squash, whatever, maybe a little more oil to use up the nice spiciness left in the pan.

  7. sylvia says...

    You can use also Beyond Meat Chicken. Yummy! Greetings from Hamburg, Germany. :-)

    • Katie says...

      Yeah, I was thinking it would probably work with cubes of firm tofu too! Maybe cauliflower florets…?

  8. Maree Bryant says...

    Baked Tortilla Stack!

  9. nadine says...

    hi Jenny! Just to tell you I tried today the challah bread pudding from your blog and it’s delicious. Thank you!!

  10. Steph says...

    I really love this recipe! I always struggle with dinner ideas. This one is simple and can be made into so many different dishes. Thanks for posting.

    • Emma says...

      Thank you for sharing this! It looks like the big bowl of comfort my family needs right now. :)

  11. We use chicken in a similar way in our house. Some riffs on the use—shred it into chicken stock, add green pepper, onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a can of petite diced tomatoes, and a can of black beans, and some chili powder/ cumin and voila! Tortilla soup in 20 minutes. We also shred the chicken into a tortilla in a pan, add black beans, salsa, hot sauce, and a little cheese and make quesadillas (also great for a quick work-from-home lunch).

  12. Jen says...

    I have a riff on this in my regular rotation! We like it less spicy (paprika, oregano, Lawry’s), rolled into fresh pitas with many veggies, hummus and cucumber sauce.

  13. Maddie says...

    This looks delicious. Keep these ideas coming!

    Any ideas out there for simple vegetarian meals that don’t require tons of grocery runs? We are big meat eaters but obviously need to get creative and scale back! Thank you!

    • teresa says...

      I would love that too! Our vegetarian daughter just came home from college and threw a wrench into my meal planning. Would love ideas that we could make and freeze for later. Thank you for all that you do!

      p.s. we make “trish’s chicken” and “chicken parm meatballs” on the regular

    • Daniela says...

      I love to use black beans in place of meat for tacos, enchiladas, loaded baked potatoes, etc.

      Pizza is easily made vegetarian with whatever veg toppings you like.

      Homemade or store bought vegetarian patties for burgers.

      Pasta is great vegetarian – I love mine with oyster mushrooms fried in olive oil for some meatiness mm. Oh I could go on! I love vegetarian food.

    • I actually just posted a vegetarian meal today on my Instagram stories that I’ve been making on frequent rotation, made up mostly of pantry and freezer staples that might be helpful while we’re all staying home. You can check my insta story @lyndseydaniellelake for specifics if you’d like… but basically in a big pot I simmer rice/lentils/several cups of frozen veggies/2 diced sweet potatoes/heavy pinch of salt with 5.5 cups water for 35ish-minutes… then add copious amounts of fresh squeezed lime, top with an over easy egg, sriracha, and avocado with tortilla chips on the side. Sounds a bit peasant-ish perhaps but it makes enough to last a few days and is super nutrient dense… and totally yummy! :)

    • Ana says...

      @Maddie – in this recipe you can replace chicken with tofu or potato or paneer (Indian cottage cheese) or sweet potato or cauliflower/broccoli florets, squash or hard boiled eggs (slice them into halves)

    • Hilary says...

      We’re big fans of veggie-friendly tex mex! A lot can be made with freezer staples too:

      Burrito bowls:
      – Freezer or pantry rice (or TJ’s chimichurri rice if you have one nearby) *I was like 30 when I realized rice can be frozen!
      – Frozen/canned corn
      – Frozen chopped peppers
      – Frozen onion
      – Any kind of beans
      – Salsa
      – Cheese (shredded cheese freezes well!)
      – Chips for scooping!
      – Get really wild and add avocado

      Tacos:
      – Take any and all of the above ingredients and wrap it up in a tortilla (which also freeze well!)

      Quesadillas:
      – Our faves are refried beans, cheese, and corn. Serve with a salad, fruit, whatever you want to round out the meal.

      Non tex mex:
      – Sweet potatoes and baked potatoes are great vessels for toppings. Sweet potatoes + tex mex ingredients are great, but we love regular baked potatos with beans, corn, and BBQ sauce. Good with and without chicken, too.

      Mediterranean pizza or wraps with mostly shelf-stable stuff:
      – Naan (for pizza) or tortillas (for wraps) –> all good frozen
      – Hummus if you have it (yup, still good in the freezer)
      – Favorite jarred Med. goodies: artichoke hearts, olives, banana peppers, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, whatever
      – Feta if you have it

    • Mia says...

      My husband is a carnivore with a capital ‘C’, but for the days where we just NEED to scale back the meat consumption, I have found so much inspiration with Kate on cookieandkate.com!
      Her site and cookbook is full of wholesome, inspiring recipes that are super adaptable too, even for us both with gluten-intolerances and hubby’s onion allergy :)

    • Elizabeth R. says...

      Alison Roman’s white bean stew recipe was so good. I made it the other day. It is vegeterian if you do vegetable stock instead of chicken and vegan if you do that and also do not sprinkle cheese on top. Also, all items were easy for me to find even during this insanity.

  14. Jill says...

    I always crave Tartine’s spicy chicken with guacamole and fries. This led me to googling a copycat recipe!

  15. Another meat suggestion after January’s pledge to cut back on meat and dairy? That post is feeling more like virtue signaling and less sincere the more meat recipes you post. It would be so cool to take the concept of spicy chicken pieces and adapt them to be in alignment with Cup of Jo’s pledge to eat less meat and dairy, maybe by doing spicy savory tempeh, or something like that.

    • Mich w/ 2 L's says...

      I’m sure you can very easily add the same spices to tofu, cook it basically the same way, and serve it in the same dishes. Maybe they’re confident their readers can be creative rather than look for something to disparage!

    • Laurie Lewis says...

      I agree, Shanti. Admittedly, I am already coming from the point of view that using animals for food is absolutely appalling…but still….I was saddened to see this recipe and hope to see COJ team do more vegan & vegetarian recipes in future.

  16. Shannon says...

    This sound so delicious—thank you for sharing! But how are you finding chicken? There is just no meat or poultry to be found in the grocery stores in my hood in Brooklyn. Taking a somewhat detached view, it’s been interesting to see what people panic-buy in a crisis – meat and toilet paper.

    • Kate says...

      It has to be regionally dependent! We can’t get eggs, milk, or yogurt for love nor money, but there is toilet paper galore!

      …and last week, the ladies at my local were stocking up on Perrier.

    • Rosie says...

      Amazon Fresh!

    • Britt says...

      Can’t get eggs, meat, toilet paper, or dairy in the store here in SoCal. I tried Amazon Fresh, which has some of these items, but they don’t have available delivery times in my area in the next week. Going vegan this week and making flax eggs :)

    • EM says...

      I too would love some additional recipes with shelf stable items. We love beans but I’d love some new ideas-beyond burritos, chile, etc.

    • Hannah says...

      Depending on where you live, see if you can get in touch with local farmers! We’re in Seattle where the markets were shut down, so we reached out to our favorite vendors and are now getting meat, cheese, dairy, eggs, and veg almost exclusively from them. Also, check out Azure Standard! They do monthly local drop points or shipping to your door. Be well and stay healthy!❤

  17. Angela Erickson says...

    Yes! I love this!!! I often just use TJ’s chili lime seasoning if I have it on hand. I also make a different version that is olive oil in the pan, fry up the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, and then at the end add lime juice to de-glaze the pan and finely chopped cilantro! My picky kids gobble it up.

  18. Meghan says...

    I feel so affirmed, I think Cholula hot sauce is the nectar of the gods. If Jenny uses it in her kitchen- I must have good taste! :)

  19. Grace says...

    I always do my chicken like this for “sweet potato nachos”! Slice SP very thinly, toss in OO/Salt/whatever else you feel like, and put in the oven for ~ 20 minutes (flipping once). Top with easy guac (mash up an avocado + lime juice) and the chicken! Such a quick and easy dinner.

    • Robin says...

      This is such a great idea! I will be making it this week, thank you.

    • Kate says...

      Yum! Thanks for the tip, Grace. I’m trying to cut back on bread and rice (the struggle is real), and this sounds like a delish option.

    • Karen T. says...

      Totally making SP nachos tonight! Love it! Thanks for the hot tip!

    • Anna says...

      Okay, when in doubt just dont eat animals.

  20. Rebecca says...

    Thank you for your posts. They bring some lightness to all this.

  21. Denise McNichols says...

    dangit! now i need to go to the grocery store…..
    this is a great idea! i’m marking it for post-plague grocery shopping

  22. Neela says...

    Yay, a recipe just in time for dinner (here in Europe!), thanks! Just a quick question- does chilli powder really mean, like, ground chillis?! Or is that something else in the States? Because no way my kiddies will eat that much chilli :D

    • Marcia says...

      They’re ground chili peppers! Not sure how it’s sold in Europe, but in the U.S. it comes in a shaker and it’s not overly spicy in small quantities. If using fresh chillies, I would use much less than the recommended chili powder amount.

    • Meg says...

      Neela- chili powder here in the states is a mixed blend of spices, most usually cumin, paprika, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper. Cayenne is pulverized cayenne pepper so probably closer to the ground chili you’re thinking of and typically spicer than chili powder. Chili powder is a seasoning that adds warm spiciness to dishes but not a lot of spicy heat, if that makes sense.

    • H says...

      Chili powder generally consists of paprika, oregano, cumin, garlic and onion powder, and cayenne pepper! A simple google search for homemade chili powder mix will do. I usually use one from allrecipes.com :)

    • Hollie says...

      Yes, chili powder is just dried ground red chilis. You could definitely scale that down for kids who like “slightly spicy” chicken pieces :)

    • Christy P says...

      I get it at my local Rewe here in Germany. It says Chili on it.

    • Neela says...

      Ah, awesome, thanks everyone!

  23. Daniela says...

    These sound like they’d be great with my favorite pasta – boil up some pasta, after draining heat up some olive oil in the same pot and add corn, cumin, and chicken pieces to the pot. Add in pasta and tons of cheese and serve. They’d also be good over baked potatoes!

  24. Ser says...

    White corn flour tortillas! So easy to make !! Google a recipe and cook them in the sandwich press between two sheets of baking paper . It squashes and cooks them all at once . No more rolling. Life hack!

  25. Amy says...

    That looks very delicious to me, sheltering in place here in Santa Cruz. We’re a mostly vegan family, so we would likely eat that using roasted small Yukon Gold potatoes in place of the chicken. Smash the potatoes in your bowl and top with a drizzle of olive oil! We ate something similar last night and it was mighty tasty comfort food!

    • Sarah says...

      Ooooo yummy! I was thinking chickpeas too!

  26. Erica Scott says...

    quesadillas, alfredo too!

  27. Janey says...

    Thank you for this, and all your recipies. In our family we have each chosen something new we want to learn while we are stuck in isolation with no school or sports – aka my kids entire life!! My 15 year old son wants to learn to cook! Since he loves to eat I’m happy he has chosen this and I am grateful for all new recipe ideas.

  28. Lindsy says...

    One of my favorites too! Main perk being that once they are made everyone in the family can have whichever option they want. Lower carb and healthier for me, comforting melty cheesy option for the kiddos.

    Love them stuffed into a sweet potato with green onions and a little sour cream or blue cheese dressing!

    • AJ says...

      ooh borrowing this stufffed sweet potato idea! Thank you!

  29. Laura says...

    well, YUM!