Diced, sliced or cubed pieces of chicken cook quickly and are a nutritious and tasty addition to almost any dish. The size of the chicken pieces determines how quickly they cook and how well they brown. In general, the smaller the piece, the more surface area there is, so the better browning you likely will achieve. Smaller pieces also cook faster. Chicken chunks help stretch a single piece of chicken further. Cooking chicken in a pan or skillet is fast and easy, especially when you master a few techniques for high-heat cooking.
Sauteing is a pan-cooking method over medium-high temperatures that browns meat, adding richness and flavor. The high heat means the food cooks quickly, letting chicken and other food retain their natural flavors and textures. While you can use nonstick skillets to saute chicken chunks, the coating prevents thorough browning. Stainless-steel or anodized aluminum pans are best, as cast-iron pans can be difficult to lift.
To saute chicken pieces, heat a thin layer of oil in the pan over medium to high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chicken in small amounts -- too much lowers the heat of the pan, preventing browning. Shake the pan as the chicken cooks for even browning. You may stir the chicken with a wooden spoon or spatula, or for those more adept, toss the chicken in the pan like you would a pancake.
Seasoning the Chunks
Chicken pieces may be seasoned before, after or during cooking. The ideal method depends on how you are using the chicken. If you are consuming the pieces plain, such as on a salad, season beforehand, mixing in dried spices, salt and fresh herbs. Do not use too much liquid for marinating, as the cut pieces readily absorb it, only to release it during cooking, making it more difficult for the meat to brown. Salt, pepper, soy and aromatics such as minced garlic and onion may be added along with the chicken, requiring no marination time. Chicken pieces often are seasoned after cooking, as in the case of stir-fries.
Incorporating Other Ingredients
Chicken pieces are thoroughly cooked when they reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit. However, because of their small sizes, measuring internal temperature is not practical. Cooked chicken pieces firm up, turn opaque and white, and juices from the meat run clear. Chicken pieces can be partially cooked -- seared and browned -- then set aside to finish cooking later. For example, add chicken pieces back in after vegetables and noodles have been sauteed to assemble a stir-fry.
Cooked pieces of chicken can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container or resealable plastic bag upward of two to three days. Precooked chicken pieces can be eaten cold or warmed up to 165 F and used for soups, salads, sandwiches or noodle dishes. For longer storage, freeze cooked pieces of chicken in an airtight container in the freezer for no more than two to three months. Defrost in the fridge overnight before eating.
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Rachel has worked professionally as a chef and writer on food since 2010. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts degree, she holds a diploma in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute. She has an active interest in wine, fine dining and sustainable agriculture.