After a long day, who hasn't stumbled into the grocery store without the faintest idea of what to put on the table -- when suddenly the tempting whiff of a freshly roasted chicken puts everything into perspective?
And although a rotisserie chicken is great served on its own, it lends itself to so many dinner options. Casseroles, pizza, salads ...
Here are 25 easy dinner ideas incorporating rotisserie chicken. These aren't formal recipes, but rough outlines you can tweak to suit your family's or friends' tastes. Most involve only a few ingredients, and almost all can be made in an hour or less. No matter your skill level in the kitchen, there's something here for everyone. And with so many ideas, you're bound to find something to please even the pickiest dinner guest.
1. Quesadillas: Soften chopped onion and bell pepper or mushrooms on the stove, then combine with chopped chicken and cheese in a folded tortilla. Toast on a griddle or large skillet until the cheese melts.
2. Chopped salad: Toss chopped chicken, apple, red onion, raisins and almonds in a bowl. Toss with a dressing made of mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt flavored with a touch of wine or cider vinegar, mustard and fresh chopped herbs.
3. Thai pasta with peanut sauce: Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar, chopped garlic and a dash of hot sauce in a saucepan with enough coconut milk or water to thin. Warm over the stove, then toss with pasta, chopped chicken, chopped roasted peanuts and fresh cilantro.
4. Lemon chicken pasta with basil: Chop chicken and saute for a few minutes to warm with a little chopped garlic and mushrooms, if desired. Drizzle fresh lemon juice over the chicken and toss with pasta, shredded basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
5. Enchiladas: Coat the bottom of a baking dish with red or green enchilada sauce. Roll shredded chicken, cheese, sauteed onion and peppers into tortillas, then place in the dish. Ladle over more sauce and add more cheese. Bake until the cheese melts and the sauce is bubbly. Serve topped with chopped green onion.
6. Chicken and spinach casserole: Combine chopped chicken with fresh spinach, chopped sauteed onion and garlic, and homemade bechamel (butter and flour cooked to form a roux, with milk added to make a thick sauce). Top with bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh herbs and a little melted butter, and bake until the filling is bubbly.
7. Sloppy Joes: Sweat finely chopped onion, bell pepper and garlic until translucent, then add chopped chicken to warm. Stir in equal parts marinara and barbecue sauce, then spoon onto buns to serve.
8. Macaroni salad: Toss macaroni with chopped chicken, celery and red onion and toss with a dressing of mayonnaise flavored with mustard and a touch of lemon juice.
9. Empanadas: Sweat diced onion, chile or bell peppers, and mushrooms until translucent, then add diced chicken, cheese and a little chile sauce to moisten. Add filling to biscuit or pie dough cut into rounds. Seal; bake until golden brown, then serve with chile sauce on the side or drizzled over.
10. Chicken noodle soup: Sweat onion, carrot and celery, then add chicken broth and simmer with noodles, other vegetables such as peas and potatoes, chopped chicken and fresh herbs.
11. Chicken tortilla soup: Saute chopped onion and bell pepper until lightly golden, then add a container of fresh salsa and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add several fresh corn tortillas torn into pieces, then use an immersion blender to puree everything in the pot. Bring to a gentle simmer and add chopped or shredded chicken, more diced onion and pepper. Serve with crumbled fresh cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips, diced onion and cilantro.
12. Shredded chicken tacos: Sweat sliced onion with chopped chile and tomatoes, then add shredded chicken and enough chicken broth to moisten. Serve in warm tortillas with shredded lettuce or cabbage, salsa and toppings of choice.
13. Burritos: In a large, warmed tortilla, combine shredded chicken with black beans, rice, lettuce, cheese, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo. Roll the burrito, top if desired with chile sauce and more cheese before serving.
14. Taquitos: Roll shredded chicken in small tortillas, then deep-fry. Serve with sour cream and salsa.
15. Barbecue chicken sandwich: Combine shredded or chopped chicken with barbecue sauce. Serve, topped with coleslaw, on toasted buns.
16. Savory turnovers or hand pies: Sweat chopped onion, carrot and celery in a saute pan. Add peas, potatoes and chopped chicken and enough broth to cover. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, then swirl in goat cheese or bread crumbs to thicken the broth, flavoring with fresh herbs if desired. Spoon into puff pastry or pie dough, seal and bake until golden brown.
17. Chili: Saute onion, bell or chile pepper and garlic. Add chopped chicken, canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and a medley of drained canned beans. Thin to desired consistency with chicken broth, then simmer to marry the flavors, checking occasionally for seasoning. Serve with crumbled cheese, green onion and sour cream.
18. Lettuce cups: Chop the chicken and toss with a little cornstarch (2 tablespoons for each whole chicken). Saute chopped garlic and ginger over high heat until golden brown with a slightly nutty aroma. Add chopped shiitake mushrooms and chopped water chestnuts. Drizzle over soy sauce, rice vinegar and a touch of sugar, scraping any flavoring from the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and cook until the sauce is thickened. Drizzle over more soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil as desired, then serve in lettuce cups topped with chopped roasted peanuts and green onion.
19. Couscous: To cooked couscous, add diced olives, red onion, sauteed garbanzo beans, chopped chicken, raisins and diced dried apricot and dates. Flavor with fresh cilantro, ground cinnamon, cloves and coriander and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
20. Quinoa: Saute sliced shiitake mushrooms over high heat, then add garlic and drizzle over soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Add diced chicken and heat to warm. Remove from heat and add fresh spinach, tossing until the spinach is wilted. Toss in a bowl with cooked quinoa and garnish with toasted nuts.
21. Pita sandwich: Spread hummus on the bottom inside of a halved pita round and top with shredded chicken. Spoon over plain yogurt flavored with chopped fresh cucumber, cumin, garlic, fresh mint and lime juice.
22. Chinese chicken salad: In a large bowl, combine chopped lettuce and shredded cabbage with drained canned mandarin oranges, sesame seeds, chopped chicken and sesame ginger dressing to coat. Serve garnished with slivered almonds or fried wonton strips, chopped cilantro and green onion.
23. Barbecue chicken pizza: Saute a sliced onion until softened and golden brown. When cool enough to handle, spread over store-bought or prepared pizza dough. Top with a mixture of half barbecue sauce and half marinara sauce, add chopped chicken, drizzle over more sauce and top with mozzarella cheese and sliced red onion. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the baked pizza before serving.
24. Calzone: Use the pizza dough and toppings for the barbecue chicken pizza (No. 23); quarter the pizza dough into four smaller rounds, fill, seal and bake until golden brown.
25. Fettuccine Alfredo: Melt butter in a saucepan and add heavy cream. Simmer gently, whisking in minced garlic and grated Parmesan cheese. Add chopped chicken, then serve with pasta, topped with chopped parsley.