How To Use Fresh Herbs To Instantly Upgrade Canned Chicken For Any Dish

Cooking on a budget shouldn't mean compromising quality. Plus, with the ever-rising price of fast food (due to things like the integration of AI), cooking at home is increasingly more economical than relenting and hitting the drive-thru. Whipping up a nourishing, balanced meal on a dime can be a tricky balancing act, and when the average omnivorous home cook thinks about "budget-friendly proteins," chances are that canned chicken is probably one of the top contenders. At a Walmart in New York, for instance, a 5-ounce can of chicken costs just $1.18.

Alas, for its reliability and low price point, canned chicken can still be a little "blah" from a gourmand perspective — an equally important side of the dinnertime equation. Luckily, there's one easy way to elevate your canned chicken recipes, and it's just as easy on the wallet: Add fresh herbs.

Fresh herbs may have an inherently "fancy connotation," but they're a low-cost ingredient. At that aforementioned New York Walmart, enough fresh thyme to make a large batch of chicken salad (meal prep for the entire week) runs for just $1.98. Cooking with fresh herbs is also a great excuse for visiting your local farmers market and a killer way to break into accessible home gardening — they can even help combat onion breathUsing fresh herbs versus dried herbs keeps your chicken salad bright and light. You can grind them up using an herb mill, a mortar and pestle, or simply shred them by hand.

Stick to savory and sprinkle away

For fail-safe pairing, stick to savory herbs; rosemary, thyme, oregano, and dill work especially well. You could also switch up the expected mild "canned chicken flavor" with bolder herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, or lemongrass. By adding the fresh herbs yourself, you also get to customize how bold or subtle the herbaceous kick is. While we're ordinarily fans of thinking outside the box with your ingredients, it's best not to steer too far off the beaten path here. Lavender and mint, for instance, are herbs that probably do not belong paired with canned chicken. 

For this tip, opt for canned chicken packed in water rather than oil. It'll allow the bright herbaceous flavors to come through without being muted. Also, to prevent the wet chicken from soggy-ing the fresh herbs, it can be helpful to take the chicken out of the can and pat it dry with a paper towel before incorporating it into your recipes.

Use fresh rosemary in canned chicken soup and sprinkle fresh dill into crisp and creamy chicken salad. An herbaceous facelift works for tuna salad, too, by the way. Stir some oregano into canned chicken pot pie filling or try adding fresh chopped chives to canned chicken fried rice. You could put cilantro in canned chicken quesadillas or sage in white canned chicken chili. Lemongrass would be delicious in a canned chicken pasta, and basil would work well in a pesto chicken pasta bake.