Here's Why You Should Never Use Canned Chicken in a Baked Casserole

The choice is yours: cold, stringy, and metallic-tasting or savory, juicy, and fresh?

can of chicken
Photo: Justin Smith

The topic of canned meat can be polarizing, to say the least. You either hate it or you tolerate it. Some, in fact, will admit to loving canned meats such as Deviled Ham and Spam, convenient and inexpensive (and some would say tasty) canned meats that have provided breakfast, lunch, and supper options to millions of budget-minded Americans. While canned food, such as canned chicken, may be ideal to stash in your backpack or RV kitchen for a camping trip, it isn't a good idea to use a food item with a shelf life of 2-5 years in an otherwise fresh and flavorful pasta casserole. Need convincing? Here is why cooking your chicken trumps using canned chicken in a pasta dish any day.

The Texture Is Different

The canning process tends to take away a lot of the original flavor and some of the firmness of the chicken. Including canned chicken in a pasta recipe would imbue the entire dish with the metallic taste and "essence" of the can, potentially overpowering the contribution of the other ingredients or the delicate sauce.

The meat, which can become stringy after sitting so long in the canned water, leaches out liquid when it is cooked, which will make the sauce loose and watery.

Fresh is Best

It doesn't take long to cook fresh chicken and, considering how much better tasting homemade chicken is over canned, it is well worth the planning and extra time. For instance, next time you contemplate preparing a chicken for Sunday dinner, add another one to the roasting pan. In just under 2 hours you can roast two chickens; serve one for dinner and shred and store the other for salads, soups, and sandwiches. If you need only a small amount of chicken, consider sautéing chicken breasts or thighs. Skinless, boneless pieces are the quickest to work with. Simply heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt and pepper, add to pan and cook 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until done. Let the chicken cool, slice and/or shred it, and proceed with your recipe. Southern Living Test Kitchen pro Paige Grandjean believes that "If you take the time to cook your own chicken, you can use the cooking liquid to build your sauce or cook your pasta…extra flavor!"

WATCH: Classic Poppyseed Chicken

Let the Deli Do the Work

If you are going to stop at the store for canned chicken, go ahead and make a detour over to the deli and pick up a hot and juicy rotisserie chicken instead. Yes, you will spend a few extra minutes at home shredding the meat, but it will be warm, tasty, and fresh. The canned chicken will be…well, what is the opposite of warm, tasty, and fresh?

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