Is it safe to eat freezer-burnt chicken? What caused it? What can you do with it? Let's answer those questions and rescue your chicken breasts by rehydrating them.
It is easy to rescue freezer burnt chicken in broth and spices, then make Mexican shredded chicken for various uses, like enchiladas or burritos.
I found a bag of those wholesale club chicken breasts in the back of the garage refrigerator freezer we replaced last week. So this poor meat is dehydrated, tough, and tasteless. In other words, it is already a hockey puck. Time to fix it.
You can use this rescued freezer burnt chicken in any recipe that uses rotisserie or shredded chicken. I prefer to use it for Mexican where any "off taste" is covered by the spices. Check out these recipes, like Healthy Chicken Enchilada Casserole, Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas, or Traditional Chicken Enchilada Casserole.
- Step 1—rehydration and some flavor
- Freezer burnt skinless boneless chicken breasts—thawed
- Chicken broth
- Onions chopped medium
- Garlic crushed
- Step 2 adding more flavor
- Tomato sauce
- Broth from step one
- Onion from step one
- Pantry Ingredients—chili powder, cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper
👨🍳How to Cook Freezer Burnt Chicken
Part one—rehydration and adding some flavor
- Add chopped onion, chicken broth, crushed garlic, cumin, and salt to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Add the chicken and bring it to a boil. Cover with a tight lid and move to a preheated 300° oven for 1 hour.
- Move the breasts to a plate to cool for 15 minutes and reserve some braising liquid for later.
- Shred by hand. Discard any hard sections.
Part two—adding lots of flavors
- Add the chicken and all part two ingredients back into the Dutch oven and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until most of the fluid is evaporated.
- Remove from heat and use in burritos, enchiladas, etc.
✔️How to use rescued chicken
The texture and taste are slightly off, but most people won't notice, especially if it is covered with cheese, great sauces, and flavors—a great way to hide those mild shortfalls.
Look for recipes that allow precooked rotisserie chicken added late in cooking, have a strong flavorful sauce, and cheese is a big plus. They will never know it was freezer burnt chicken.
What is freezer burn?
Freezer burn is just dehydration of meat or other foods. In meat, it is caused by the water in the meat cells freezing and forming ice crystals that damage the cells. The water molecules can then escape the cells. With the water escaping, the taste also goes, and the texture changes. If the package is intact, you will probably see ice crystals in the package.
But even foods without cells, like ice cream, get some ice crystals for the same effect. It may or may not be due to poor storage.
No-Frost freezers tend to have more of an issue with freezer burning due to the small changes in temperature, which is how they are "no-frost." And the longer period of time in the freeze, the more likely to have freezer burn.
Is it safe to eat freezer-burned chicken or other foods?
Yes. It is safe to eat freezer-burned food. It is dehydrated, not spoiled. But with the water leaving the cells, the texture and flavor deteriorated rapidly.
Since it is safe, can we rescue it by adding moisture, texture, and taste? We can add moisture, but the taste and texture will be slightly "off." We want to cover that up—an ideal job for Mexican food where we can use shredded chicken for burritos and enchiladas, with lots of flavorful sauce and cheese. On to the rescue,
How to revive freezer-burned chicken
Just cutting off the freezer burn may be acceptable if it is small. But the damage is usually deeper, and most cooking methods will pull water out of the cells. So just cooking normally rarely gives good results.
Brining the chicken can help rehydrate the meat, and you can add some flavors to cover for the lack of flavor and occasional "off" taste. Brining is passive; if you have more than a little problem, it won't do much.
The meat with significant damage should be discarded, or we can rescue most of it by braising it. If you are unfamiliar with braising, it is heating the meat slowly in liquid in a sealed container to prevent evaporation. So, similar to simmering but covered.
You can not always prevent freezer burn, but here are some things to help.
1) Set your freezer to 0°F and use a freezer thermometer.
2) Never put hot food in the freezer.
3) Use freezer-grade materials and containers. Use freezer paper and buy that freezer zip-lock bags, not the cheap thinner ones.
4) Thicker food, like casseroles, should have several layers of protection. I do a complete plastic wrap and two layers of aluminum foil or freezer paper.
5) Keep as much air as possible out of the storage containers—flatten that zip-lock bag.
6) Leave some room for air circulation around packages and use smaller packages.
7) Keep track of how long things have been frozen.
No, this is not a good idea. The cells are severely damaged, and they will not last long frozen.
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Preheat oven to 300°.
Chop onions. Also, you can trim off the worst of the freezer burn.
Add onion, 2 cans of chicken broth, 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin, and 1 teaspoon salt to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Mix well, add chicken, and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and move to the oven for 1 hour.
Remove from the oven and move the breasts to a plate to cool for 15 minutes. Discard the liquid except for 1 cup. Then shred it by hand.
Add chicken and all part two ingredients back into the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until most of the fluid is evaporated. Remove from heat and use in burritos, enchiladas, etc.
Freezer Burnt Chicken Breasts Rescue - Shredded Mexican
- 4-5 thawed freezer burnt skinless boneless chicken breast
- 28 oz chicken broth
- 2 onions - chopped medium
- 1 tablespoon garlic - crushed
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 15 oz tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup broth - from step one
- onion - most of the onion from step one
- Preheat oven to 300°.
- Chop onions. You can also trim off the worst of the freezer burn.
- Add onion, 2 cans of chicken broth, 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin, and 1 teaspoon salt to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Mix well, add chicken, and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and move to the oven for 1 hour.
- Remove from the oven and move the breasts to a plate to cool for 15 minutes. Discard the liquid except for 1 cup. Then shred it by hand.
- Add chicken and all part two ingredients back into the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until most of the fluid is evaporated. Remove from heat and use in burritos, enchiladas, etc.
Your Own Private Notes
- It is OK to trim back the worst parts.
- Do as many breasts as you want as long as they are covered by broth.
- Once rehydrated, you can change and spice and use another way.
- Be sure to hand shred so you can sort out any parts with bad texture.
- OK to refrigerate for 2-3 days, but do not refreeze.
- Some breasts are just too far gone for this to work well.
- Limit your usage to recipes that use rotisserie chicken and have flavorful sauces.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Originally published July 19, 2010. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.