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Many people dislike cooking with chicken and fish because they feel that it takes too long. But both of these items can be quick and easy to prepare if you know a few simple tricks.
Chicken and other types of poultry must be cooked thoroughly to avoid health risks associated with salmonella and other harmful bacteria.
Cleaning is important, too (especially if you drop raw chicken on the floor!). Both cleanliness and thorough cooking are important approaches for your health and your safety!
Fowl should always be cooked so that there is no pink showing in the meat, and the juices run clear when poked with a fork.
Overcooking will make the meat tough and dry, whereas undercooking poses a health risk. In order quickly prepare poultry, there are some shortcuts you can take.
Reduce the Size, Go Boneless & Thin
Whole chickens, especially when stuffed, take a long time to prepare.
You can reduce the cooking time significantly by cutting the bird in half, along the breastbone and the backbone. Remove the backbone and the small rib bones in order to prevent a choking hazard. The backbone for stock at a later time.
The halves will cook much faster than the whole chicken would, and it only takes a few seconds to cut and remove the bones if you use a sharp butcher’s knife, or a good sharp pair of kitchen shears.
To save even more time, prepare the stuffing on the side and serve it with the bird. The whole idea here is to reduce the mass of each individual component that is being cooked.
Use boneless chicken thighs and breasts instead of bone-in quarters. Bake them in the oven at 425°F.
If your oven has a convection option, use this to reduce the cooking time as well. Keep the temperature the same, but reduce the cook time by a third.
If you don’t have a convention option in your built-in range, you might consider a large countertop convection toaster oven, such as the Breville Smart Oven Air.
Pounding out boneless breasts and thighs will also help them to cook faster. Thinner pieces of meat always cook more quickly than thick ones. These thin pieces can be breaded and fried, rolled up with stuffing in the middle, or just seasoned and grilled.
Precooking Speeds Up the Entire Process
Parboiling chicken prior to grilling it or roasting it in the oven can help to reduce the preparation time. Just plop the bird into boiling water for a few minutes first. This will give you moist meat on the inside that isn’t dried out by longer grilling or roasting.
Searing the bird prior to adding it to a stew or casserole will also help to reduce the cooking time. By searing it on all sides, you start the heating process and seal in the juices. This will give you well-cooked chicken in a lot less time.
Of course, make sure you leave enough time for the rest of your stew or casserole ingredients to cook fully!
Add Some Pressure
Almost any type of poultry can be prepared quickly in a pressure cooker. There are many quality brands out there, and you should follow the directions for your particular model.
If you don’t yet have a pressure cooker, then you should get one!
We prefer the Instant Pot 7 in 1 for an electric model (read our review) and the Kuhn Rikon Family model for the stovetop variety. Once you get the hang of using a pressure cooker, you’ll swear by it.
Use a pressure cooker prior to finishing off your dish in a broiler or via some other method. I normally prefer cast iron pans for this.
The end result is a chicken that is tasty and moist.
If you love crispy skin, cook it in the pressure cooker until it is almost done. Then place the chicken under the broiler for a few minutes, to crisp up the skin. Rubbing it with coarse salt and spices prior to putting it under the broiler will really help the skin to crisp.
Many people overcook this protein source, which is really a shame.
When properly prepared, fish should be moist and flaky, not dry and tasteless. When undercooked it is not flaky, it feels firm, and it looks raw. Fearing illness related to underdone fish, many people cook it for far too long.
Fresh is Best
Make sure you always choose fresh specimens to start with. When buying whole, choose a fish that has all of its scales. The eyes should be clear, not cloudy.
There should also be no smell, or you should detect an aroma that reminds you of the ocean, not an unpleasant fishiness. When fresh, fish will not make your nose burn the way an aging specimen does.
Don’t Treat All Species the Same
Different varieties are considered fully cooked at different times and at different levels of heat penetration.
Sashimi-grade tuna steaks should be pink in the middle. Salmon should be heated completely through, and it will be flaky and moist. Smaller pan fish will also become flaky when done.
Convection or Pressure
To reduce cook times, you can start by using a convection oven. Set the fish to broil for one-third less than the recommended time.
As with the chicken, we highly recommend the the Breville Smart model if you are looking for a stovetop oven. You will quickly have beautifully done fish every time when using this method.
Another way to reduce cooking time is to use a pressure cooker. Just like when you are preparing chicken, follow the manufacturer’s directions. You will be amazed at how fast dinner can be completely prepared and on your plate.
One more way to quickly prepare fish, especially fillets, is with a George Foreman Grill, or another appliance that operates in a similar manner.
This type of grill sears both sides at once, and then heats the middle to the desired state. Any fat will drain off, and you will have perfectly grilled fillets in a few minutes.
Boil in a Bag
Fish can also be prepared quickly by wrapping it in heat-safe plastic wrap and boiling it. Salmon or other meaty fillets work well with this method, especially if you stuff them.
First, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Roll the fish around the stuffing, roll the plastic wrap around it like you are wrapping a piece of candy, twist the ends closed, and let them stick to the plastic.
Drop these rolls into the boiling water and let them cook until you see them change color. Remove from the water and let cool until you can unwrap them.
This is kind of like a poor man’s sous vide – albeit a much quicker process than true sous vide, which is a very low temp and long duration slow cooking method. Our boil-in-a-bag method is a much faster (and still tasty) way to cook without using oil or butter.
FoodSaver V3880 Vacuum Sealing System available from Amazon
You can also substitute the heat-safe plastic wrap for a vacuum-sealed product such as those produced by Foodsaver, or any quality vacuum sealer. Just make sure the plastic bag material allows for safe boiling. The end result will be extremely moist and tender.
Let the Marinade Do the Work
Finally, marinating in an acidic solution will reduce cooking time. Any marinade containing citrus juice, pineapple juice, papaya, or vinegar will start to react with the fish as it is marinating.
Reduce the cooking time by several minutes when using these marinades. The longer you let your protein soak, the less time it takes to cook.
In fact, some fish products, like ceviche, actually “cook” fully in the marinade, with no application of heat required!
Some vacuum sealers such as the FoodSaver V3880 shown above allow you to actually speed up the marinating process via a special mode with the introduction of the solution under pressure inside of the bag.
Knowing how to decrease cooking times for chicken and fish will require you to familiarize yourself with the tools that you have available in your kitchen. Fortunately, this is not difficult to do. And once you master these techniques, you will be able to prepare and serve your favorite proteins faster than ever before!
What’s your favorite trick to get your seafood or fowl on the table in a jiffy? Let us know in the comments!
Photo credits: Shutterstock.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!