15 Ways To Elevate Canned Chicken

Canned food has come a long way. The industrialization of food processing has allowed us to access more food outside of the growing season, preserve it for a longer period, and get it for a relatively low cost. But one canned food that has piqued our culinary interest and inspired numerous recipes is none other than canned chicken. 

You should always have canned chicken in your pantry because of how versatile it is as an ingredient and how long it can stay on your shelf without going bad. The chicken breast is essentially cooked and stored in water, similar to canned tuna, so it retains its nutritional profile. Since it's pre-cooked, adding it to your favorite meals is relatively easy. You can even eat it straight from the can for a protein-dense snack. 

Despite all the perks of convenience, canned chicken does come with some downsides. Like any canned food product, it will lose some of its texture and flavor with time. But, with a couple of simple, flavorful boosts and alterations to preparation methods, you can elevate this canned meat to all of its protein-rich glory. 

1. Pair it with textured ingredients in chicken salad

One of our biggest qualms with canned chicken is that it has a mushy profile. In order to improve the taste of this canned protein, you need to add texture to it. For example, add cranberries and pecans to your next chicken salad for a textural boost. Toss your drained canned chicken in a bowl with mayonnaise, dried cranberries, pecans, and a scant amount of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. You can also add chopped celery for a snappy bite. And after all, will you notice the metallic taste of the chicken if it's slathered in mayonnaise? 

Your upgraded chicken salad can be served on crispy crackers or our favorite vector for sandwiches: crispy ciabatta. The subtle pull of the bread and its soft interior is a sublime choice for sandwiches. We also love adding a bit of crunch from crispy kettle chips tucked underneath the bread. 

2. Smother it with cheese and seasonings for a perfect dip

Another way to make canned chicken more pleasurable to eat is to slather it underneath a mixture of cheese and seasonings in a dip. Although some people argue you should avoid using canned meat in buffalo chicken dip because the chicken is already mushy, it's really only a caveat if you make your dip in the slow cooker. The long cooking process denatures the protein and can cause it to come out rubbery. But, if you're making a rendition of the recipe outside of this kitchen appliance, canned chicken is a safe, relatively inexpensive go-to. 

We recommend sticking with canned chicken for fresh dips, too, since it's already pre-cooked and requires minimal preparation. You can combine seasoning packets (like ranch) and cheese with your canned chicken to make an appetizer-ready dip in under five minutes and without having to turn your stove on at all. 

3. Fry it to give it extra texture

Let's face it: Canned chicken can sometimes be a tad mealy. If you want to give new life to canned poultry, you should try frying it. Canned chicken will make deliciously crispy patties, and it's super convenient and will come out much tastier than the store-bought versions. 

To make this recipe at home, combine your canned chicken with binders like eggs and flour, herbs, and grated cheese. Once you've assembled your patties, you can coat them in a layer of breadcrumbs and shallow-fry them on the stove or pop them in your air-fryer to cut down on the extra oil. It's important to remember to always drain the canned chicken well and rinse it to remove any of the astringent, metallic flavors. In addition, you'll also want to focus on channeling the moisture in your patties with your binders or potentially even adding a scoop of mayonnaise to keep the chicken moist while it's frying. Panko, traditional breadcrumbs, and cornflakes are all great coatings for these budget-friendly chicken patties. 

4. Mix it with other fillings for a flavorful chicken pot pie

Chicken pot pie is a homestyle staple during the cold winter months, and canned chicken is just one way to make it a bit easier on yourself. The benefit of using canned chicken for this recipe over fresh chicken is that you won't have to pre-cook it in advance. This can cut down on the time you have to spend making dinner and allows you to channel your energy into the real star of the show: the crust. 

Canned chicken is mealy and soft, so you'll need to infuse your pot pie with lots of diverse textures and flavors to make up for this pre-cooked protein. Like other preparations of this meat, you'll need to drain the water out of the can before tossing it with your veggies and herbs. We love using frozen peas and carrots for pot pie and pairing it with bold spices like tarragon. 

5. Pair it with fresh herbs

One of the reasons why people may be opposed to utilizing canned chicken more often for their recipes is because it doesn't always have a very pronounced meaty flavor. The easiest way to brighten up your canned chicken, regardless of the recipe you're making, is to incorporate more herbs. Fresh dill makes all the difference in a canned chicken salad because it has a very grassy and almost lemony flavor that pairs well with the mayonnaise and other heavy ingredients. In a soup, you may consider using one of our favorite (and most underappreciated) herbs: tarragon. Like dill, it has citrus undertones with bright notes of fennel and licorice. 

It's important to note that dry herbs can be substituted for fresh ones but should be added earlier in the cooking process to flavor the meat. In contrast, fresh herbs should be reserved for within 30 minutes of serving; otherwise, they can develop bitter flavors. 

6. Make a high-protein pizza crust

People who are looking to maintain their protein intake are going to love this hack. Instead of layering the top of your pizza with canned chicken, you can make a crispy pizza crust out of it. Although it will never resemble a thin-crust Neapolitan-style pie, it is a high-protein, low-carb option that you can top with your favorite traditional pizza toppings. 

The hack, which was unsurprisingly shared on TikTok, shows how the canned chicken should be mixed with an egg and low-moisture grated Parmesan. This is one of the only times when using the shelf-stable stuff in the green canister is acceptable since it will impart a cheesy flavor to the crust without causing it to fall apart. Once the mixture has been combined and flattened into a pizza-like shape, it should be par-baked before you top it with your favorite pepperoni or melty mozz. 

Although it might seem weird to use canned chicken for this recipe, its blandness really gives it an advantage. While almond crusts can be too nutty and cauliflower crusts just plain disintegrate, the canned chicken crust holds together and bakes easily.  

7. Add store-bought stir fry sauce for an easy weeknight dinner

It's true. No one will know it's canned chicken if you slather it in stir-fry sauce and toss it with crunchy veggies. Stir fry is brimming with notes of sesame, garlic, and ginger, which infuse into the chicken and brighten its flavor. Plus, the vegetables have a crisp texture that contrasts the softness of the meat and makes for an exciting (and relatively inexpensive) dinner option. 

The trick to making canned chicken stir fry at home is all about the order in which you add the ingredients to the pan. Hard veggies like carrots and broccoli will require the most cooking time, while softer veggies like bell peppers and snap peas should only be cooked enough to soften them while still retaining their crunch. The canned chicken should be added last because it's already pre-cooked, and leaving it in the pan too long may cause it to go limp. 

8. Maximize the crunch by serving it in a lettuce wrap

Canned chicken was made to be stuffed in a lettuce wrap. While many folks will venture to wheat wraps for their chicken salads, we recommend going for a crisper option that will complement the mushy and limp texture of canned chicken much better. The best type of lettuce to hold up a wrap is bibb lettuce, rather than the popular romaine or iceberg. Although the leaves are soft and tender, the ribs are thick enough to hold the weight of your chicken salad without breaking.

You can also use your canned chicken for Asian-inspired chicken lettuce wraps. Cook the chicken with crisp water chestnuts, ginger, onion, and crunchy veggies until aromatic and flavorful then spoon the mix into your lettuce boats. We recommend topping each with a sprinkle of cashews or peanuts for added crunch and to contrast the softness of the filling.

9. Scoop it into your tacos and let your toppings do the work

We're leaving taco meat in our rearview mirror and going with all things poultry this year. Chicken tacos couldn't be quicker with canned chicken, and the use of aromatics and bright flavors really helps balance out the meat in your favorite corn or flour tortillas. One of our favorite ways to prepare the chicken for this dish is to simmer it in salsa to infuse it with flavors. Although it might make you think twice about simmering already soft meat in liquid, salsa is an easy way to infuse umami and acidic notes into the chicken and give it an unexpected bite that just plopping it into a shell wouldn't do. 

You'll only want to simmer the chicken in the salsa until the mixture has thickened and bubbles. Then, you can spoon it into your awaiting tortillas and top with guacamole, crunchy lettuce, and chopped red onions. 

10. Use it as a topping for your ramen

Instant ramen is already an easy dinner idea that can be embellished with whatever Asian ingredients you have on hand in your kitchen — and a little help from canned cream of chicken soup. The cream of chicken soup makes the ramen broth much thicker and adds more flavor while also providing a more meaty undertone to amp up the chicken. Some people add grated cheese or chopped bacon to their cream of chicken ramen for extra flavor, but we really draw the line at the soup base. 

This comforting dish should be made methodically with the rinsed canned chicken added right before serving. Cooking it for too long will cause it to get waterlogged and fall apart in the soup while adding it at the end of the cooking time will ensure it stays together in discernable pieces. It's a great meal for college students working with limited cooking tools and a limited budget or folks who need a simple lunch idea.

11. Add it to sliders

Ready, set, hike! Game-day sliders are an easy meal to make in bulk and are even easier to bring together with canned chicken. Although freshly shredded chicken or your leftover rotisserie bird are the top choice for making these sandwiches, canned chicken will work in a pinch — especially when you don't want to make an extra trip to the grocery store.

Since the chicken is already cooked, drain it and give it a quick rinse to remove as much of the saltiness as possible. Then, toss it with your sauce and slather it on the base of your slider buns. You can stick with a traditional barbecue sauce or add a spicy buffalo sauce. Then, layer cheese on the buns and tuck them into the oven to bake. There's no need to pre-cook the fillings, saving you extra time on game day. 

For the best results, we recommend pairing the canned chicken with a crunchy slaw and adding an extra layer of garlic butter on top of the buns before baking. It will tie the sandwich together and make you forget you used canned chicken. 

12. Mix it with enchilada sauce for extra flavor

Enchilada sauce and canned chicken are a match made in heaven. Canned chicken is your go-to for simpler enchiladas, but the key is to really go hard with the sauce. The canned chicken is already in small pieces, so you won't have to worry about pre-cooking and shredding your protein until it reaches the perfect consistency. Since the meat doesn't have a particularly strong flavor, it will soak in the enchilada sauce like a sponge and be a vector for flavor. 

To add your canned chicken to the enchiladas, first, cook the veggies and aromatics until soft before adding your drained canned chicken. Add your favorite spices like cumin and chili before pouring in some enchilada sauce to coat the chicken. Thicker enchilada sauce may need more time to reduce before you tuck it into the tortillas; otherwise, you risk a soggy mess. 

13. Use it for a casserole dish

Homestyle dishes like casseroles and canned chicken can go hand-in-hand, but you'll have to do some extra legwork to ensure that your protein is the star of the show. This mainly involves adding different textures to complement the softness of the chicken and brightening the dish with herbs for a sophisticated finish. 

For a simple, classic chicken casserole, toss the chicken into a bowl with your pre-cooked egg noodles, cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soups, and dried herbs. Oregano and thyme are two herbs that really complement the chicken well and can be added fresh as a garnish after the casserole is finished baking. We also recommend using a flavorful, crunchy breadcrumb for your topping on this pasta dish since it will complement the softness of the chicken. Since canned chicken often contains salt, you may also want to tweak the recipe to use low-sodium soups to prevent shifting your recipe out of balance. 

14. Season it with Asian spices for a great fried rice

Fried rice is the ultimate way to use the medley of leftovers in your fridge. If you're looking for an easy protein, besides the eggs, to make your dish a bit healthier, grab a can of chicken. Start by frying your veggies in a pan with oil to get them soft. The secret to a delicious chicken fried rice is adding a tablespoon of ketchup to your veggies to balance the salty flavor of the soy sauce and the chicken. From that point, you can add your additional Asian seasonings, drained chicken, and egg into the pan to cook. 

We love using canned chicken for fried rice because the meat soaks up all the soy sauce and Asian flavors beautifully. As long as it is not overcooked, the meat will add texture to your dish and is much more convenient than having to cook chicken breasts separately. 

15. Use it for a boost of protein in your nachos

If you cover your nachos in sour cream, spicy jalapeños, and layers of gooey, melty cheese, it will be hard to tell what your exact choice of protein was underneath all that goodness. The inclusion of all these diverse textures and bright, fresh ingredients means that canned chicken can slip underneath the radar. 

For a hearty plate of nachos, season your drained canned chicken with Mexican spices like cumin and smoky ancho chili. Then, spread it on the layer of tortilla chips and cover with gooey, sharp cheese like colby or cheddar. Once your nachos have cooked slightly, tower them with your favorite spreads and salsas, and don't forget a fair amount of heat from the peppers and spicy taco sauce. We prefer using canned chicken over shredded chicken for nachos because the shreds tend to dry out, while the canned chicken stays moist tucked under the cheese.