3 Ways to Transform a Chicken Into a Delicious Meal

Photo: iain bagwell 2012/Getty Images

Who isn’t looking for a no-fuss supper? We ask a few top-notch chefs to give us a hand in the kitchen.

It took a trip to Paris to turn Toronto-based chef Cory Vitiello on to the joys and wonders of a perfectly cooked chicken. Those memories linger, and recently, the head of culinary development at the Cactus Club and formerly of the award-winning the Harbord Room and the Drake Hotel opened a chain of rotisserie chicken counters in the city called Flock Rotisserie + Greens. Using quality free-range chickens sourced from small farms in Ontario – and raised free of hormones – he cooks whole birds rotisserie-style and serves them up in a variety of ways, from sandwiches and soups to whole birds with classic sides like roast potatoes and green salads.

“When a chicken comes off the rotisserie or out of a good oven, it’s my all-time favourite meal,” he says. “It’s visually appealing, for one, and nothing gets me salivating like a perfectly roasted chicken.”

A cooked chicken, be it take-out or cooked at home, is an infinitely versatile base for a meal, Vitiello adds. He likes a 2-1/2 pound bird – just the right amount of meat and perfect size for roasting – rubbed with a dry mixture of herbs and spices and left for 24 hours to cure. Then, one hour in the oven followed by 10 minutes rest … et voila! The perfect chicken.

“You don’t want to get in the way of this dish. Pay as much respect as you can to the ingredients. Don’t overwork it. Let it speak for itself.” Here, three of Vitiello’s favourite ways to transform a cooked bird into a delicious meal.

1. Casual: A Chicken and Salad Lunch

“For a quick, healthy, beautiful lunch, take the meat off the leg and thigh bones and break it into quarters. Use a paring knife to make an incision in the leg and slip off the meat. Make a small cut along the breastbone and pull the meat away with the skin intact. Lay the pieces on a platter with a lightly dressed green salad [for a classic Tarragon Vinaigrette go here]. It’s a beautiful light lunch for two to four people.” Bonus: Make a stock using the bones and carcass.

2. Weekday Dinner: Chicken and Roast Vegetables

“In advance, start roasting a pan of unpeeled rustic fall root vegetables with some smashed garlic, rosemary, thyme, olive oil and salt. The chicken comes home, cut it into quarters and serve it on top of the vegetables straight from the oven. Put your money into organic [produce]: get nice, skin-on vegetables, like baby beets, carrots, turnip, that sort of thing. A whole roasted chicken on top … that’s ready-made for Gourmet magazine!”

3. Entertaining: Quick One-Pot Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Pulled Rotisserie Chicken

“This is one of my go-to meals at home. It’s dead easy to prep. You cook and present it in one pot. It’s great for using leftovers. Especially in colder months, this dish is warm and satisfying and just gets better after a day or two in the refrigerator.

This is not an exact recipe per se, just a template that opens itself up to endless possibilities. Use what you have on hand and put your own spin on the dish. It’s rustic and ad hoc in nature. Don’t get caught up in specifics.”

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Diced onion
Minced garlic clove
Canned tomatoes, diced with juice
Diced carrot
Chopped kale
Cauliflower florets
Smoked paprika
Ground cumin
Ground fennel seed
Ground turmeric
Cayenne pepper
Bay leaf
Canned chickpeas
Cooked lentils
Chicken or vegetable broth
Pulled rotisserie chicken

Garnish (optional):
Dried currants
Greek yogurt
Fresh cilantro leaves

Use your common sense on quantities, depending on how many people you’re feeding. Go easy on the spices at first. Allow the flavours to cook out and then readjust, adding a little more as your own taste desires. You’ll be surprised at how forgiving this recipe is. Season your dish with salt little by little along the way to bring all of the flavours together. It’s also a great exercise to build your own palate and learn to cook without recipes. Make a couple mistakes along the way and adjust. No big deal.

In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat with a little olive, add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until they are transparent. Add tomatoes, carrots, kale, cauliflower and spices. Cook 5 minutes longer. Add chickpeas, lentils and broth to cover. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Check the spice and seasoning, adjust and then add the pulled chicken to the pot just to warm through. Garnish and serve straight from the pot.

What to drink

“I like a good strong cider with my chicken,” says Vitiello. “But my ultimate, if I’m in Paris, is a white Burgundy with a roast chicken, salad and some pomme frites. A good Provençal rosé is also good – anything on the lighter side, with more vibrant flavours. A bubbly cider, sparkling wine or Champagne – the whole meal should feel light and bright.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 2017 issue with the headline, “Comfort (Food) and Joy,” p. 46-50.