Trader Joe’s BUTTERMILK BRINED HALF CHICKEN


Trader Joe’s BUTTERMILK BRINED HALF CHICKEN

Gave this new product addition a try as it sounded a bit interesting. I grilled the chicken in a cast iron pan. Was it really “exceptionally moist and juicy” as advertised? Frankly it was OK however I found the taste and texture really nothing special. My main question was given the premium price ($5/lb) is it worth it – Versus – my just buying bone in chicken at Trader Joe’s (which is around 1/2 the price) then fixing that up myself. Marinating it in buttermilk or yogurt takes minutes to make, though it does need time to marinate). Now TJ’s sells a whole chicken for $1.99 a lb. or about $10-11 for a 5 lb bird which will feed 4 (or you can buy parts for $2-4/lb.)

The 1/2 chicken I got was 1.5 lbs. Clearly from a very small chicken (around 3 lbs) The leg here only had about 3 bites worth of meat on it, though the breast was fairly meaty. It came with the neck too, something that most people might just throw away (me, I gave it to the cats!) So cooked, there was not a ton of meat on this 1/2 chicken. I doubt this 1/2 chicken will “serve two people?” as they suggest. In sum, I didn’t find this a very good value. It would be cost way less to just buy chicken and just marinate it myself. Personally I would more likely marinate it in Greek YOGURT (yogurt makes for very tender chicken). For a better flavor than this bland marinade I would use a lot of spices, for an Indian or Middle Eastern flavor. Tumeric, Cumin, Garlic, Ajika. Now that would be make a way more interesting grilled chicken dish than how this pretty meh chicken turned out. Also, it may not be a fair comparison yet still I could not help thinking for I paid for this 1/2 chicken ($7.50) I could have picked up a whole rotisserie chicken for less (BJs or Costco) and they are very tasty. So personally I probably will not buy this buttermilk brined chicken again. If I wanted “easy and ready to cook” I would rather pick up something right next to this that I know is actually worth it : TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN which sells for a dollar more a pound than this, and as its boneless, has zero waste so more bang for the buck.

Now since writing this review, I have learned a TikTok video recipe about this Trader Joe’s brined half chicken went viral and sparked a lot of interest in this chicken. I watched the video. The cooking techniques she does look sound to me (salting to bring moisture to the surface, wiping off moisture, grilling the skin, and then roasting) however this should produce as good results with any marinated or brined chicken.

TJ says: https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/buttermilk-brined-half-chicken-073854

“Are you a seeking the secret to sensationally moist and juicy Chicken? Search no further, your quest is complete—it’s Buttermilk! This cultured dairy product makes a magnificent marinade, as the acidity in the Buttermilk will tenderize the chicken, allowing it to retain more of its juices when cooking…”

Great copy-writing however the product didn’t live up to this description in my opinion. Of course try it for yourself if you are interested. However I would suggest if you do, season it up quite a bit. It’s pretty bland as-is.

Trader Joe’s Harissa Chicken Thighs


By now you’ve probably heard of TJ’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs which are very good and a big hit. I gave them a big thumbs up, and from what I can gather checking the internet, everyone seems to agree that they’re great. TJ later came out with other marinated chicken thigh flavors. They have three versions now, they added a “HARISSA” version and a “LEMON & HERB” one. I decided to give the HARISSA flavored chicken thighs a try. These are a bit trickier for me. Unlike the SHAWARMA version which I buy pretty regularly now, I don’t think I would buy the HARISSA version again, though I did make a great Chicken and Rice dish using them. Some bloggers seem to like the Harissa version while many others don’t. Not a clear cut winner, so you may have to try and decide for yourself if you are interested. As for me, these Harissa things are nowhere near as good as the Shawarma ones. 

Now after some careful label checking, I think I figured out one major “problem” with these after I looked closely at the two packages. Here’s one big difference between the Shawarma and Harissa versions: the liquid content.

The label on the Harissa Flavored Chicken Thighs says “Contains up to 28% Solution….”

The Shwarma Chicken Thighs however say “Contains up to 7% Solution…”

A-ha, right? The “Harissa flavored” version has a much “wetter” marinade that the Shawarma version and this wetter marinade (i.e., more water) means they would absorb more liquid as weight into the meat sitting in this package. To me 1/4+ of the weight of a package of chicken being marinade seems massive. So one thing I found with these compared to the Shawarma thighs is it was harder to get a good sear going quickly when I threw them into a hot cast iron pan, as with the Shawarma thighs. Which frankly makes sense considering a much higher liquid content, and that fact is not in the Plus Column. Another bugging point to me was, why would tomato paste be the first ingredient in a “Harissa” marinade? Tomato paste is present in harissa, but its a minor player, the primary ingredient being fresh or dried red chiles.

These also didn’t have anywhere near as a distinctive flavor as the Shwarma version. So all in all, these are “just OK” for me. Personally I wouldn’t buy them again (unless I was making an Arroz con Pollo, for which these worked well). Frankly my suggestion is, if you really want to make some “Harissa Chicken” — just buy some boneless chicken at TJ, buy a jar of TJ’s Harissa ($2.70) and marinate it with lots of harissa smeared all over the thighs (or breast) for a 1/2 hour or so. I bet it would be delicious and work way better than these. Boneless skinless organic thighs I think are 2.99 a pound. These Harissa chicken flavored thighs sell for $4.99 a pound. 

PS – If I remember correctly when I looked at the label, the “LEMON & HERB” marinated thighs have an even higher “contains up to XXX % solution” content (50% or more?) You are paying chicken prices for lemon juice!

So these are not terrible but not great. RATED AS “MEH” – UNLESS DOING AN ARROZ CON POLLO which did turn out great with rich tomato-y rice (and if you want a basic recipe idea leave a Comment)

BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS – How To Cook Nice and Juicy! (RECIPE)


Lots of people complain about boneless chicken breasts being dry and tasteless. Well, they don’t have to be dry. You can easily make them turn out juicy and delicious with this little cooking trick I’ve come up with.

Boneless breasts can quickly go from being moist and juicy to dry with just a minute of overcooking. So you do have to be careful with your cook time and technique. Over the years I’ve experimented plenty cooking boneless breasts and I’ve figured out a method that really seems to work well. Try this the next time you make chicken breasts.

Here’s my my not-so-secret, secret way of cooking boneless breasts so they are juicy and delicious.

Chicken breast meat, especially off the bone and with the skin removed, is naturally very lean. It just doesn’t have enough intramuscular fat like dark meat such as thighs have, which makes thighs much easier to cook without them getting overcooked and dried out. Therefore the trick with cooking boneless breasts is basically to get a very nice sear on both sides, then let them finish in the pan with the cover on and the heat off using residual heat to let them finish cooking. That’s the secret in a nutshell.

Chicken breasts – Fresh or Frozen. During Covid-19, I started buying frozen breasts instead of fresh at Trader Joe’s. Sure I usually would prefer fresh over frozen but I don’t want to go to a store as often, so having frozen chicken breasts in the freezer is very practical. TJ’s sells them prepped and quick frozen in 2.5 lb bags, either “whole breasts with rib section” which are a big whole breasts or you can get portioned, trimmed up ones which are half a breast and make a perfect portion per person. They run about 7 or 8 dollars a bag. And there is an Organic option which doesn’t cost much more than the regular ones so you might opt for those. If I get them frozen, I let them do an overnight defrost (more like a full day) in the fridge – how long will depend on how thick they are. As I have mentioned many times in this blog, I always use the slow defrost method, as it is the best method for defrosting almost everything. If you rush the defrosting and say leave it out on the counter you will see liquid run out of the meat. Then your chicken will be drier no matter how you cook them. Naturally if you prefer to use fresh boneless chicken breasts, this same cooking method works equally well with fresh breasts. Fresh of course is the “normal” way I would buy chicken pre-Covid-19 and have also at times bought fresh breasts on sale, trim them up and freeze them myself. It’s just a little more work, but when they are $1.99 /lb on sale at my supermarket, its worth it.

Here’s the general outline of this method: Season/Marinate. Sear on both sides. Turn off heat. COVER PAN. WAIT.

HOW TO COOK JUICY BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS :

Prep and trim the breasts. Season and/or marinate the meat (use a spice rub or marinade). In the picture above I used some TJ TACO SEASONING all over the breasts. Its a convenient spice blend I think actually works well with chicken as well as beef. Its a cumin and chile “mexican” spice blend. AJIKA works great too. Of course any mix or blend of spices of your choosing will work. Smoked Spanish Paprika is great to add as it helps browning and is very flavorful (TJ carries it in a tin). I almost always add fresh garlic. Rub spices all over. Salt/pepper to taste. Let the seasoned chicken marinate/sit for 20-30 minutes on the counter. TIP: Rub some Olive Oil (EVOO) over the chicken before adding the spices and they will stick better. Some people like a sprinkle of some coating (a bit of flour, or breadcrumbs or Panko). What we are going for is a nice golden brown color on both sides of the chicken.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil (or oil and butter mix) in your pan (Non-stick or Cast Iron). Cast iron is terrific. Get your pan hot on medium heat. Add chicken breasts and let them sear: DO NOT TOUCH or move the breasts in the pan for 3-5 minutes until you see a good “Golden Brown and Delicious” sear on the bottom. Good browning is crucial for flavor (aka the Maillard effect). When bottom side is done, use a spatula and flip the breasts over and cook the other side – but only about 2-3 minutes on side two (!) Now turn off the fire and immediately put a tight fitting lid on your pan. Do not peek or open the cover for 7-10 minutes (we don’t want to let the precious steam that will finish cooking them) TIP: (optional) Squeeze a quarter lemon in the pan before closing the lid, quickly. Throw the peel in too. Set your timer for 7-10 minutes to let the breasts finish cooking in the covered pan. Thats the whole trick, letting residual steam and heat finish them, slowly. Voila! Juicy Breasts with a ton of flavor.

This little trick to cook juicy boneless breasts is that easy. With this method, the seared breasts are not cooked all the way through the middle but will finish cooking in the “closed, moist environment” inside the pan. Now you may have to play around with your own actual timing, adjusting a little bit either more or less based on thickness of chicken and what type of pan (thicker pans and cast iron hold heat well). What we are aiming for in the cooking is getting them just over the line of seeing any pink or rawness. After they are just past the point of not being pink you get them out of the pan and rest them on a plate or cutting board for about 4-5 minutes (some foil over them will help keep them warm). Resting keeps juices in. The breasts should be cooked through (don’t slice before resting them, but once rested you can “peek” in a thick section). Remember meats continue cooking a bit from residual heat inside.

In the photo the bigger thicker piece did need another 30-60 seconds to finish cooking completely so I just put it back with the cover on with a lowish flame for one minute. Its way easier if they are a bit underdone to cook them a little bit more then overcook them. You can also make shallow slashes in the thicker part of a breast prior to seasoning them to help even things out with the thinner parts as heat will penetrate the slashed part easier. Or you can pound the thick part flat with a pan a bit which will even them out. Anyway give this method a few tries and you will figure out your exact timings depending on a few factors (chicken thickness, heat source, pan thickness, etc). Electric stoves of course have a great deal of residual heat after they are shut off so Wait Time would really need to be much less (or just move the pan to a cool burner). If your chicken is still coming out “dry” with this Sear & Cover Method, you will need to deduct a minute of the outside browning time especially after you turn them. Conversely if its pink in the thickest part add a tiny bit more time. You can also try it with the lid on for the second side browning, but deduct a minute or two as the steaming effect inside the pan will be more intense. Now that you know this sear and cover method, you can experiment. If you like the results please let us know in the COMMENTS section.

Naturally serving these with a tasty sauce is great for flavor plus keeping things moist too. Try yogurt and Green Dragon or Zhoug -or- yogurt and lemon, or just deglaze the pan with a tiny bit of stock, wine or even just water and using the scrapings, and a bit of butter to make a few tablespoons of pan sauce. If you want a slightly thick sauce, add a pinch of cornstarch slurry.

Hope you enjoy this basic technique. If you want to explore cooking boneless breasts by poaching them instead of grilling, the Kitchn has a detailed explanation and good cooking technique for POACHED BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS (LINK BELOW) Poaching is great for moistness, but you don’t get the intense flavor of grilling.

https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-moist-tender-chicken-breasts-every-time-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-36891

Trader Joe’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS


SHAWARMA SPICE MARINATED BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN THIGHS

RAVE

(Update: while I still give this product a Rave I am ranting for so many price increases since I first wrote this post. (orig. $4.49/lb->now $6.99? Up about 50%)

I don’t know about you, but it’s kind of rare that I buy packaged marinated meat. I normally just buy meat, then I will marinate it however I want. But when I first saw this product: Trader Joe’s “Shawarma Chicken Thighs” it really caught my attention, because I happen to love Shawarma.

So I decided to give this a try. In short, not only did I like TJ’s Shawarma Chicken more than I expected to, I liked it so much since then, I have bought it many times because it’s really good. So if you don’t want to read this whole piece and just want to know if these are worth buying, the answer is yes. If you want to know more, read on dear reader….

SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are very flavorful, having been deeply imbued from many “Shawarma spices” used which include: “Onion, garlic, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, turmeric, annato, parsley, lemon, vinegar, rosemary…”

This chicken is convenient to have and easy to cook. You pretty much just toss them into a pan, and in less than 20 minutes you can have a tasty dinner ready – with the addition of a few sides (rice/grains, veggies, naan?) The unopened package can easily stay a week or so in the fridge. They state much longer but personally I find TJ’s “good until” dates are way too generous. Naturally one can also freeze it. If you do, I suggest a slow 24hr defrost in the fridge.

Upon cutting the bag open (Be careful, its messy) you’ll immediately smell those nice Middle Eastern “Shawarma” style spices used. (Note: Turmeric and anatto in the marinade will stain everything it gets on orange, so I recommend using tongs or a fork to remove the chicken. Your cutting board will get stained orange. Just clean the board with diluted bleach).

Any fat you see still on the chicken will melt off during cooking and it keeps the meat moist so I don’t trim it. I do put a few shallow slashes in the thickest parts of the thighs to help even them out with the thinner part to cook more evenly. You can blot the chicken a bit with a paper towel to dry them off (optional). I actually sprinkle on a few more spices (Smoked Spanish Paprika, Everyday Seasoning, Ajika, another sprinkle of ground cumin, etc) as more dry spices on the surface will make it brown up even more.

Chicken cooked halfway, with added onion and garlic
Cooked, sliced up and put back in the pan (with some arugula)

COOKING: I usually grill the chicken in my cast iron pan (or use a non-stick pan). I add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil (or oil/butter mix as the butter adds flavor and browns well). Your kitchen will smell great cooking these from all those nice Middle Eastern spices. Cook on medium for 7-8 mins until deeply browned on one side, then turn. TIP: I let the thighs cook without touching or moving them until they get a really nice sear (as you can see in the picture) Optional, but added sliced onion and garlic about half way will make for great additions for the chicken (and possibly green/red/yellow peppers).

When first side is done, flip and cook another 6-7 minutes. If you can grill these on a real grill with wood or charcoal of course they would probably taste even better. Baking in the oven can work too for 20 minutes on high. You could even bake this as a Sheet Pan Supper with veggies for an easy one-pan dinner.

This marinade is not spicy so if you want a little heat just add something like Bomba or Zhoug goes especially well with these, with a bit brushed on at the very end and/or served on the side after cooking. Cooking veggies in the same pan on the side (onions, peppers, cherry tomatoes…) is good and tasty.

Broiling? I tried cooking the thighs this way once but they gave up a lot of liquid that collected at the bottom of the pan so I kind of keep my pan grilling as preferred method which seems to seal in juices. Chicken thighs are great because they are harder to overcook – unlike boneless breasts which can dry out easily (side note – you can check my method for juicy boneless chicken breasts –) : (juicy chicken breasts).

Shawarma chicken, served on TJ’s Garlic Naan with Tzaziki, and veggies. Super yummy!!

When the chicken is done, rest them 3 minutes before slicing them up (resting meat keeps it juicy). Put the sliced chicken back in the warm pan with any cutting board juices and mix with the grilled onions if you made some. Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley or arugula perhaps for color plus a squeeze of lemon are good.

SHAWARMA SANDWICH ASSEMBLY – warm your naan or pita. Place some chicken down the center, top with sauce (TJ’s TZAZIKI sauce is perfect). Top with veggies. To eat, fold gently and eat like you would a taco, or just use a knife and fork

As mentioned I find these go great with TJs’ “ZHOUG” spicy sauce which matches well for a Middle Eastern flavor. Or mix Greek Yogurt and Zhoug together 50/50. You can serve the chicken many ways but sure a great way of course would be as a SHAWARMA wrap with Naan or other flatbread. Use flatbread, warm pita or TANDOORI NAAN (it’s perfect for this) or even TJ HABANERO LIME TORTILLAS as a wrap …. add chopped veggies (tomato, cukes, shredded lettuce, scallion, parsley…) Top with sauce, a tahini or yogurt garlic sauce (tzaziki sauce worked great). A little messy to eat but oh so good. Your family will love them. Basmati Rice on the side, or as a bed, would be a great match with this.

Another one: this a DIY version from scratch on whole wheat pita bread with sauce and veggies

Shopping list : Shawarma Chicken, Tzatziki, Naan or Pita, onion, garlic, veggies…..

The second dish I made with these chicken thighs was to use them for Chicken Tacos / Fajitas. Despite the cultural melange (middle east and mexico) these work great for Tacos. Sidenote: Of course you already knew Lebanese migrants had a big part in Mexican food culture and created the famed Tacos Al Pastor, right? Green Dragon hot sauce with it’s tomatillo and cilantro flavor made them perfectly Mexican on our tacos.

(note: price has gone up a few times since I wrote this!): TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are $4.49 a pound* The 1.5 lb package I bought was just over $6 and I got two meals out of it, with sides, so more than if you just bought plain chicken but not a bad deal. These are excellent to also use as the Chicken part of a dish, say a Chicken and Rice (brown the meat with onions, throw in rice, add broth, cook 18 minutes…) I made an Arroz Con Pollo kind of dish with this and it came out terrific! So TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are a good product and worth trying. These are a TJ hit. If you want to save money, naturally you could buy chicken thighs and add your own blend of “middle eastern style” spices for a marinade and leave it for a few days in the fridge.

(LINK) TJ’s ARCHIVED INFO PAGE FOR SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS

My DIY Shwarma on Naan

DIY SHAWARMA – IT’S CERTAINLY POSSIBLE TO MAKE THIS YOURSELF FOR LESS . Buy boneless skinless thighs and marinate with yogurt and shawarma spices (from 2 hours to up to 3 days) “Middle Eastern spices” – Ground cumin, fresh and/or dried garlic, onion salt, turmeric, black pepper, Ajika, Zhoug, Hatch Flakes... DIY Shwarma style chicken will be really good as well!

SHAWARMA SPICE MIX BLEND RECIPE here: https://mayihavethatrecipe.com/crazy-good-shawarma-spice-mix/

(LINK) Here’s A Recipe I found on TJ’s site with these for Shawarma Chicken Rice Soup

TJ’s sells other varieties of the marinated chicken thighs: HARISSA and LEMON & HERBS. Personally I found these other flavors aren’t as good as the SHAWARMA version. For one thing, they are way too wet) and I won’t buy either again.

AUTHENTIC CHICKEN SHAWARMA COOKING ON A HUGE ROTATING SPIT. MEAT THEN SLICED OFF. If you ever get the chance, try it!