The easy 30-minute chicken meal is the mainstay of the busy mom who wants to provide healthy protein for her family without waiting to roast a whole chicken for an hour or more. The versatility of chicken is unmatched by other meats and fish. With quick cooking the watchword of the day, you can find cookbooks and cooking shows galore -- celebrity chef Rachel Ray has made a career out of 30-minute meals -- with ideas to make you salivate and spark your kitchen creativity.
The key to 30-minute meals starts with using boneless chicken breasts or thighs rather than a whole bird or bone-in pieces. Julia Child and co-authors of her 1961 classic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" forged the way in popularizing what she called supremes de volaille -- today's "boneless breast" -- as a way to quick and delicious chicken, sauteed in butter in a skillet for just five minutes. Today, Ray follows with a time-saving suggestion that Child would likely not have endorsed but works for some: using your hands to measure ingredients. A handful is 3 tbsp., for example, a palmful is 2 tbsp. and half a palmful is 1 tbsp.
Everyday Chicken Dishes
Work with at least 1 lb. of boneless breast or thighs for every four people in your family. Keep the meal super simple with boneless chicken thighs flavored with thyme and lemon, from the cookbook "Busy Moms Weeknight Favorites." Combine lemon rind, lemon juice, fresh or dried thyme, olive oil and honey in a freezer bag. Add the thighs to marinate for 20 minutes and grill them for five minutes on each side. Serve with corn on the cob or a pasta such as orzo, and peas. Or make Southwestern chicken and black bean burritos, from "Rachael Ray Classic 30-Minute Meals." Flavor the breasts with cumin, chili powder, cayenne or Tabasco sauce and saute them on a griddle. Saute onions and garlic, add the chopped cooked chicken and a can of black beans, heat through and serve wrapped in tortillas. Add fixings such as lettuce, scallions and tomatoes. Or make kid-friendly ranch-flavored chicken. Marinate the chicken in creamy ranch dressing, olive oil and lemon juice. Bake or grill the chicken and serve on a bed of mixed greens. Add your children's favorite raw vegetables, some grated cheese and ranch dressing.
International Chicken Dishes
Cashews and regular or Thai basil can lend an Asian flavor to a chicken stir-fry, served with fluffy white rice or rice noodles, recommends "Weeknight Meals Made Easy." Chopped peppers, sliced scallions and shredded bok choy go into the oil after the chicken, cut in strips, while sherry, lime juice and the zest of a fresh lime complete the flavoring. Or try Asian chicken burgers with peanut sauce, suggested by "Busy Moms Weeknight Favorites." Coarsely chop the chicken breast and place it in a food processor with green onions, chili paste, garlic and peeled fresh ginger, as well as soy sauce. Make patties, grill them until done and place them on buns, with a splash of bottled peanut sauce. Serve with baked vegetable chips.
Have the kids make their own chicken tenders rolled in breadcrumbs and corn flakes, as well as brown sugar and allspice, Ray recommends. Mix these ingredients with vegetable oil. The kids dredge the tenders in flour, beaten eggs and finally the crunchy breading. Place the tenders in the oven to cook for 15 minutes. For a variation, mix crushed cornflakes and Parmesan cheese in a freezer bag. Coat the chicken breasts in creamy dressing, then add them to the bag. Seal the bag and let your children shake it to coat the chicken. Bake the chicken for 15 minutes. Serve the chicken tenders with honey mustard, barbecue sauce, salsa and creamy dressing for dipping as well as some veggies on the side.