Canned Ingredients That Will Upgrade Your Chicken

Chicken is versatile and often more affordable than other meats. While it can run the risk of being dry and boring when not prepared well, it takes on flavor like no other meat and is easy to stretch to feed the whole family or even a party.


Whether you're using the oven, the stovetop, the instant pot, or the slow cooker, chicken breast, thighs, or even ground chicken can be elevated to next-level tastiness with the addition of a few simple canned ingredients.

There are lots of good reasons to keep your pantry well stocked with canned foods, but emergencies and budget concerns are only some of them. Simple canned ingredients can yield delicious, affordable, and impressive chicken dishes any night of the week. These low-prep ingredients are available in almost any grocery store, last forever on your shelf, and pack a nutritious punch. Keeping a few of these in stock will help you pull together a flavorful meal with ease no matter how much or how little time you have on your hands to get dinner together.


Beans are the best bang for your buck

If you follow any food influencers on social media or receive email blasts from celebrity chefs or popular recipe blogs, you've likely noticed a lot of bean talk lately! Beans are in, and while they make for great vegan meals, they also work really well with chicken as a side dish or mixed into white chicken chilis, soups, and stews.


Some evangelize the benefits of dried beans over canned, but the truth is canned beans are perfectly good and most people won't know the difference! If you know how to cook them, they're an excellent nutritious, cheap, and time-saving addition to any meal.

White beans like cannellini or butter beans are often the preference here, but chickpeas and black beans won't go amiss. Paired with ground chicken meatballs or shredded chicken breast in broth, they're a great way to stretch the meat and make a larger heartier meal for less. Stir in some spinach or kale and you've got a nutritious one-pot entree that satisfies.

Canned tomatoes are a cupboard staple

Canned tomatoes come in many shapes and sizes to suit every recipe's needs. From whole peeled to crushed, diced to pureed, with basil or fire roasted, canned tomatoes are an essential pantry item that makes it easy to create delicious homemade sauces, chilis, and soups. You can use them to make your own sauce from scratch or buy canned sauces already mixed with herbs and spices when time is tight. 


There are many wonderful dishes that combine chicken with canned tomatoes. A red chicken chili is a great thing to make in your slow or pressure cooker. Simple skillet chicken breasts can be cooked in canned tomatoes with or without the addition of cream for another simple one pan meal. Chicken Parmesan or chicken parm pasta come together easily with the aid of canned tomato sauce, but when you're trying to impress, you can use a can of whole peeled tomatoes to make your own sauce from scratch for chicken Parmesan.  

Tiny tins of tomato paste are also useful for thickening and adding depth to sauces. Try stirring in a heaping spoonful of tomato paste to the aromatics of your next chicken curry before pouring in your liquids. You'll seldom use a whole can in one dish, so to prevent the leftover tomato paste from going bad in the fridge, try freezing tablespoonfuls of between parchment paper in a zip-lock bag. Each pat will be perfectly portioned for the next time you need some. 


Artichoke hearts and olives elevate baked chicken

Artichoke hearts are a great addition to elevate the flavor profile of baked chicken and impress your guests. Canned artichoke hearts come whole, halved, or quartered, and any of those should do the trick. Marinated with spices or plain, they'll taste delicious with your chicken. Canned olives pair well with artichokes and chicken too, and should be nearby on the canned vegetable shelves. You can buy them whole or sliced, just remember that sliced olives may burn easily in the oven if not submerged in liquid. 


Roasted alongside chicken breasts, legs, or thighs, artichokes, olives, and capers add earthy, bright, and briny flavors to a dish that's easy to prepare but sure to impress. Bone-in skin-on chicken thighs bake beautifully atop sliced lemon with artichoke hearts and olives nestled in between the pieces. Simply coat the chicken in some olive oil, salt, and pepper (a tablespoon or two of dijon won't go amiss either) and add the olives and artichokes into the baking dish.

Spinach and artichoke are another classic combination. Stewed together with chicken thighs, broth, onions, and a dollop of cream cheese, they'll make a hearty, healthy, and sophisticated one pot meal. These dishes will not only incorporate some nutritious veggies but also present nicely on the table. Serve with rice or potatoes and enjoy!


Pour in some coconut milk

If you're looking to add some creamy goodness to your chicken dish, try using a can of coconut milk. An excellent substitute for dairy products, coconut milk is a lighter, lactose-free alternative to cream or yogurt and the perfect ingredient to yield velvety Thai-style chicken curry. It also works well in chowders or tomato cream sauces. 


You will likely find coconut cream and coconut milk next to each other on the grocery shelves. Coconut cream is thicker with a higher fat content and less water. It will also work well to thicken and cream up your curries, stews, and sauces, but coconut milk is thinner with a closer consistency to milk or cream. It comes in light or regular varieties and both can be used almost interchangeably. Canned coconut milk should last quite a while on your shelves, and much like coconut oil, the consistency may vary due to temperature. If you notice the white "cream" has separated or solidified at the top of your can, don't worry! It will all melt and integrate back together into your dish.

Coconut milk adds a subtle coconut flavor that compliments any curry, sauce, or chowder. While we often associate coconut with dessert, pure coconut milk isn't actually that sweet, so don't worry about it adding much sugar to your recipe.


Go old school with cream of mushroom or chicken soup

Easy to locate in the soup section of any store, cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soups are old favorites that can be eaten on their own or used as ingredients in many classic casseroles and meals. A staple of the soup aisle for nearly a century, Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom is the most common, appearing in several classic American dishes. Cream of mushroom can enhance a chicken pot pie, make a mean beef stroganoff, and of course, it's key in the Thanksgiving stalwart, green bean casserole. 


Chicken with cream of mushroom soup used to be a weeknight staple. There are a few ways to prepare this simple and satisfying dish, but generally, chicken is browned on the stove before cream of mushroom is added, along with some cheese and herbs, and then popped into the oven to bake. Don't sleep on this classic, which is easy to whip up and packed with creamy umami flavors. 

It might sound strange, but canned cream of chicken soup can be used to make delicious fried chicken. Cream of chicken soup is another classic that made its way into dozens of iconic casseroles, but it's found new purpose in this crisp and tender favorite. Used as a substitute for buttermilk, the soup will act as a binding agent. Dipping the chicken pieces in the cream of chicken soup before coating them in flour will also add an extra depth of chicken-y flavor and help to keep the meat nice and moist during the frying process.


Throw a beer can chicken on the barbeque

Beer can chicken is a fun barbecue trend that actually works and tastes great. A whole roast chicken is cooked on the barbecue, propped up on a can of beer to keep it from burning. Simply select your favorite brew and drink or pour out half of it into a glass, leaving the other half of the liquid in the can. Then insert the can, opening side up, into the cavity of the chicken. As the bird cooks, steam from inside the can will rise to keep the meat moist from the inside out. And the beer will add some flavor. 


Cider can also work. With similar alcohol content, carbonation, and packaging, cider is the perfect gluten-free alternative to beer. It yields a slightly fruitier flavor, which can be delicious with some apple wood chips thrown on the barbecue. 

If you're struggling to keep your chicken from falling over, several beer can chicken holders have come on the market. These simple metal props will keep the chicken from tipping over, burning, and spilling your beer into the barbecue grates.

Add texture with canned corn

Corn kernels can add a pop of color and a bit of texture to your next tray of loaded chicken nachos. Canned whole kernel corn, also called niblets, is another great pantry staple that can easily be added to chicken dishes. It comes in a few varieties, including the slightly sweeter 'peaches and cream' corn kernels. Chilis and chowders benefit from the addition of canned corn, as do fried rice and stir-fries. If you feel like trying something a bit different, canned baby corn can be a fun alternative with a denser texture for stir-fries. You'll find the baby corn right next to the whole kernels on most grocery shelves, and it's sometimes called "cobs of corn."


There's always canned creamed corn too, if you feel like serving up a side dish with minimal effort. Despite its name, canned creamed corn (sometimes called "cream style corn") doesn't usually contain any dairy. While homemade versions often do, the name on the canned version refers more to the texture which is achieved by blending pulped corn with some sugar and water. You can serve it up as is, or use it to make cornbread or fritters to serve with your fried or barbecue chicken. 

Conjure up comfort with chicken soup

Is there anything better than chicken soup? We all know that homemade soup is the ultimate comfort food on a chilly day and the best pick-me-up when you're feeling under the weather. You can use any kind of chicken meat in a soup. If making chicken soup from scratch sounds like an ordeal, simplify the first steps by picking up a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and a couple of cans of chicken broth. It's easy to shred the meat from the rotisserie chicken, and when you don't have hours to simmer down a bone broth, canned broth makes it easy to pull together a homemade soup in no time. Simply add in your veggies, herbs, and noodles or rice.


Keep in mind that noodles and rice both release a lot of starch into the broth and soak up a ton of liquid. If you're putting them straight into the pot without pre-cooking, it'll likely thicken your soup. That can be delicious, but you may need to add a little more broth or you'll end up using a fork instead of a spoon.

If you do want to amp up the rice content, you can try your hand at a savory rice porridge or "congee." This essential asian dish is made by cooking rice in water or broth until it breaks down into a thick porridge and is often topped with shredded chicken meat, chili, and soy sauce.

Chipotle peppers in adobo pack a punch

There's no quicker way to pack a punch than with canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. These peppers, and the sauce they come in, add smoky heat and depth to chicken breast. The peppers are pretty darn spicy, so you may only need one or two in any given dish. A few spoonfuls of the liquid in the can will also do wonders adding smoky peppery flavor to your dish. Next taco night, try poaching and shredding two chicken breasts with some chipotle. Shredding the meat makes it go a lot further. You'll be shocked how many servings this yields. 


If you want the smoky flavor but you're heat shy, you can scrape out the seeds to reduce the spice level. It's easy to adjust the amount to suit your taste buds. You'll rarely use a whole can in one recipe, so save the rest for future use. Freeze leftover chipotle peppers and sauce in an ice cube tray for single serving portions you can use later.

For a milder pepper option, canned diced green chilies are great. Throw these ingredients in the slow cooker or pressure cooker with canned diced tomatoes and canned corn to make a killer chicken chili. White chicken chili is another delicious option.

Enchilada sauce will maximize Mexican flavors

Since we're already in the Mexican food aisle, let's keep with the theme. Next to the chipotle, green chili, and jalapeño peppers, you'll likely find cans of enchilada sauce. Like salsa, it comes in red, green, spicy and mild varieties. But unlike salsa, the key ingredient in enchilada sauce is peppers, not tomatoes. This sauce can be used to poach or slow-cook chicken breast that is shredded to make yummy tacos or oven-baked chicken enchiladas. Pour some enchilada sauce at the bottom of your baking dish, then roll up shredded chicken meat in tortillas, top with more sauce and cheese, and bake! This crowd-pleasing casserole will feed the whole family. Feel free to add beans if you're looking to stretch the meat further or add some more flavors and textures to the enchiladas.


If there's no time to prepare your own shredded chicken, try using canned. That's right — the chicken itself is also a canned ingredient that can be used to cut down prep time and costs to make a protein-packed dinner.

Evaporated milk is concentrated for ultimate creaminess

Canned evaporated and condensed milk have a thick, syrupy consistency, and can be substituted for milk or cream in certain recipes. Condensed milk and evaporated milk often sit next to each other on the shelves, but they are not the same thing. While the texture is similar, condensed milk contains added sugar while evaporated milk does not. Condensed milk is very sweet (often called "sweet and condensed milk") and typically appears in desserts and sweet beverages. This makes it harder to use in your chicken dishes. But evaporated milk is essentially just that — milk whose water content has been evaporated, leaving a concentrated version that lasts on shelves much longer. 


Evaporated milk can make a great cream sauce for a chicken skillet or baked chicken. Try using it when preparing fried chicken. Dip the chicken meat in a mixture of evaporated milk and egg before dredging in flour. The evaporated milk will keep it extra moist on the inside while the outside is nice and crisp. If you're a fan of the chick and waffle combo drizzled in syrup, you can use condensed milk here to create a salty-sweet fried chicken flavor explosion. 

When you open a can of condensed or evaporated milk, look out for the same warning signs you would with any dairy product. Discoloration, curdling, or any funky smell are signs that it's gone bad.