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Certain types of meat like chicken breast seem to have such a short window of being done. Cooking too little can be unhealthy and cooking too much can dry it out. So it seems most cooks are very careful with not overcooking these types of meats.

Yet, I see all kinds of recipes about how to reuse leftover roast chicken, or chicken pot pie recipes where you're supposed to cook the chicken first (or use leftover cooked chicken) and then put it in the oven for another 15 - 45 minutes (depending on the recipe).

I just can't understand how we're expected not to severely dry out and overcook the meat in these types of recipes. Is there some kind of a trick I'm missing? If there is enough liquid, are we able to drastically slow the cooking process? But even braised chicken breast can be overcooked without too much extra time. Can we optimize for this second cooking by using large pieces or trying to not completely cook the meat in the first cooking?

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  • Both answers are very helpful. But I still revert to the chicken pot pie recipe examples that often include large chunks of chicken. I suppose maybe I've eaten a few shredded options but it's quite rare. Any ideas on how people are supposed prepare chunks of chicken prior to putting in a pie in the oven?
    – mitch
    Mar 1, 2019 at 13:18

4 Answers 4

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You're not expecting the same texture if you re-cook, that's why many re-cook recipes involve shredding the meat before the second part of the process - separating it as long fibres.
Chicken Tinga, Pulled Pork, etc use this as the basis of the texture of the dish.
Using fattier cuts can mitigate the drying out.

Personally, if I have a long cook that's going to be using chicken breast, I often don't put the chicken in until near the end, so I can get it 'first time' rather than second. It will affect absorption of other flavours though. Something like a curry you can tweak this approach by marinating the chicken in a similar spice blend. Sometimes I just make the call based on experience with a particular dish, or try it both ways & see which I prefer.

If you par-cook the meat, you will then have an extended period where the centre is in a completely unsafe temperature zone.
Don't do this.

From comments
For a pie - so long as it's going straight in the oven, you can flash-fry chicken chunks to get some good colour then finish in the oven, in the pie-mix. So long as the mix doesn't start from cold, temperatures ought to remain in the safe zone throughout.

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  • Great suggestion on the timing of when to add the chicken as well as the safety issue of par-cooking poultry. I suppose if I par fry it seconds before it goes into a pan and into the oven it should be ok. But I still wonder if there is a better way to prepare the chicken for a pot-pie.
    – mitch
    Mar 1, 2019 at 13:21
  • For a pie - so long as it's going straight in the oven, you can flash-fry chicken chunks to get some good colour then finish in the oven, in the pie-mix. So long as the mix doesn't start from cold, temperatures ought to remain in the safe zone throughout. [added to answer].
    – unlisted
    Mar 1, 2019 at 14:26
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You could do it carnitas style.

https://cafedelites.com/pork-carnitas-mexican-slow-cooked-pulled-pork/

  1. Cook meat. It will get dried out.
  2. Save the fat that cooked out of the meat!
  3. Hand shred dried out overcooked meat.
  4. Fry shreds in fat.

YUM!

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  • Great idea! I just had some really dried out chicken at a conference this week. Are you saying I could have taken that type of chicken and shredded that up and fried it in fat and it would not have experienced that tough, dried-out flavor and consistency?
    – mitch
    Mar 1, 2019 at 13:20
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In many cases, you're not supposed to re-cook the meat, you just need to warm it through. You do need to cook it through the first time, but you just want to avoid overcooking it too much.

If you overcook it, then yes, it's better to shred it and put it in some sort of flavorful liquid to let it soak up some liquid. (this is best to do while it's still warm from the first cooking).

In the case of a pot pie, you just need to take the chill off of the meat before you bake it. I make the sauce, cooking whatever vegetables with it, then add the meat. You'll finish re-heating the meat when the whole thing bakes.

If you're making something like chicken a la king, where you're not necessarily baking it, then just give it a few minutes to warm through. The wet sauce will help to regulate the heat so it doesn't overcook. (although it's still possible to overcook it if you let it cook for too long).

For casseroles with crumb or cheese toppings, I'll bake it until it's warmed through, then use the broiler (top heat only) to brown the top. For pot-pie, you need to cook the pastry top, so you can't quite do this ... although you can cheat and bake biscuits separately and set them on top of the casserole when they're fully or almost done.

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Chicken is very easy to be overcooked — whether on the grill, on the stove top or in the oven. On the grill, you can usually remove the burnt edges, and the inside will still be moist. The stove top and oven are a little trickier, though, since typically the meat is dried-out on the inside too. Change up the meal by shredding the dry chicken and adding mayonnaise, salt, pepper and other spices of your choice for homemade chicken salad sandwiches. If you don’t wish to change the meal completely, slice the chicken into thin strips, and add a mixture of olive oil or butter and herbs. Drizzle that on top, and garnish with salt and pepper. You can also add barbecue sauce or your favorite vinaigrette.

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