Chicken Meal Prep

Chicken is one of the best protein sources out there. It’s real, chew-able food unlike a protein shake and chicken breasts are much leaner than most cuts of beef.

The downside to chicken is cooking. Babysitting a frying pan full of chicken breast is a horrible grind, especially if you are cooking several batches to have your meals prepared for the week ahead. It can also be tough to reheat chicken without drying it out.

This article is a quick summary of cooking methods that can make cooking enough chicken for the week ahead a breeze.

Chicken in an Instant Pot

What works

  • Chicken thighs – with or without skin or bones. As long as they are not frozen 7 minutes on high pressure with a 10 minute natural release works great for 4 chicken thighs. Because of their high fat content they also reheat well.

What does not work

  • Chicken breast – While the Instant pot is certainly capable of cooking chicken breast, it always comes out tacky. There’s nothing worse than listening to your teeth separate from the food after every bite.

Sous vide Chicken

  • Sous vide reliably produces delicious chicken that is a pleasure to eat. Also, once everything is set up there is no need to watch your food while it cooks. The one downside is the length of time it takes to cook.

What works

  • Chicken breast – Every. Single. Time. If you are cooking full chicken breasts go with 150F for 60 minutes.

What does not work

  • Chicken cutlets – The cuts of meat are simply too small to retain much moisture. If you were to marinade them you might get better results. However, based on my experience, the 145F for 45 minutes that most of the internet and sous vide cooking apps recommend does not produce great results.
  • Chicken thighs – Technically these do work but they call for incredibly long cooking times, 4 hours in some cases. The thighs turn out good but really are not distinguishable from the Instant Pot chicken thighs that take less than 30 minutes from start to finish.
    • In defense of sous vide chicken thighs, they do produce some amazing juices compared to the Instant pot. If you plan to cook down the leftover chicken juices in a sauce pan you may want to try sous vide chicken thighs at 165F for 4 hours. Cooking down the juices left over from sous vide produced a much better sauce than the leftover sauce from the Instant Pot.
    • There are two possible explanations for this. First, the Instant Pot juices are diluted with a whole cup of water. However, this can be boiled out. I think the better explanation is that the four hours of heat from the sous vide breaks down additional structures like collagen and release them into the juices.

Additional considerations

Based on personal experience I stay away from recipes that ask you to cube the chicken before cooking it. This is a cheap trick. The recipe author is asking you to cut the chicken small enough so you will not notice the unpleasant texture resulting from poor cooking technique.

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Brownies

This is a simple recipe to turn your chocolate protein powder into an enjoyable brownie.

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 0.5 cups strong wheat flour
  • 2 even scoops casein protein powder (40 grams protein total)
  • 0.25 cups water

Tools

  • Small, microwave safe mixing bowl
  • Small baking sheet
  • Fork or whisk

Instructions

  1. Turn the oven on to 425F.
  2. Microwave the butter the mixing bowl for about 45 seconds. It melts faster if you cut it into pieces.
  3. Add the sugar and mix with a fork until they are well combined.
  4. Add the flour, casein and water.
  5. Mix with your hands until you feel an even consistency. Make sure the butter has cooled enough to not burn you.
  6. Divide into two pieces. Form them into rectangles about an inch high and place on a small cookie sheet.
  7. Once the oven is preheated to 425F put the pan in for 6 minutes.
  8. Consume after cooling. These keep well in a closed container at room temperature.

More Information

Here is the calorie breakdown if you make the recipe as written:

  • 54 grams protein, 216 calories
  • 53 grams fat, 477 calories
  • 79 grams carbohydrates, 316 calories
  • Total – 1,009 calories

Strong, or hard wheat flour has a higher concentration of gluten than weak or soft wheat flour. Gluten gives these brownies their pleasant texture

There is some room for a personal touch here. You can substitute some peanut butter for regular butter. Combine the peanut butter and the butter before adding the other ingredients. This does dilute the chocolate flavor of the protein powder. You may want to add a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder

If you decide to use peanut butter it will take ½ cup of water to get everything to mix together. The recipe also needs ½ cup of water if you decide to add a third scoop of protein.

The recipe has you dividing the batter into two parts to make a pretty hefty protein bar with about 500 calories. If you want smaller portions I would still bake it in either one or two pieces. After they cool you can cut them into whatever size you want. Dividing the batter into eight smaller cookies caused them to turn out too dry for my taste.

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Amaranth

Summary

  • The high fiber content relative to the protein in amaranth makes it impractical as the sole source of protein in a meal
  • It is easy to make and stays fresh for a few days
  • The protein in cooked amaranth is about 80% as good as the equivalent amount of casein protein

Amaranth Recipes

The first section of this article is a number of amaranth recipes. The second half covers some of the more technical nutrition qualities of amaranth. Click this link to go to the second half of the article.

How to cook amaranth

  1. Boil 3 cups of water
  2. Add one cup of amaranth
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes
  4. Remove from heat and enjoy

More information

The amaranth will most likely still have a soupy consistency after 20 minutes of cooking. If you let it sit and cool it will become much thicker.

One cup of uncooked amaranth will yield just under 3.5 cups of cooked amaranth. This means you can expect 8 grams of protein per cup of cooked amaranth.

It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days. The longest I let it sit was four days and the consistency and taste were the same as the first day.

Amaranth tastes how you might expect a tree leaf to taste. Seasoning it is very easy and takes less than you would expect based on the volume of amaranth you are trying to flavor.

Because of the “plant” taste I have found that things like basil, garlic or zaatar seasoning work well. You can also add brown or regular sugar the same way you would in grits or oatmeal.

Amaranth and Peanut Butter

Technically it mixes well with peanut butter too. You get a diluted peanut butter taste with a texture that you want to chew. I mainly use this on open faced sandwiches.

  1. Measure .25 cups of cooked amaranth and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter into a bowl
  2. Mix well
  3. Spread over 1 piece of bread
amaranth and peanut butter sandwich
Open faced amaranth and peanut butter sandwich with a side of cheese curds

Amaranth Nutrition

This section of the article provides details about the protein quality of amaranth. Topics include comparisons of amaranth to similar types of foods.

Amaranth vs Oats

This is really not a fair comparison when it comes to overall nutritional value. Amaranth is by far more nutritious in a number of ways. This is mostly due tot he fact that when you eat amaranth you are consuming the whole seed. With oats you only get a part of the seed.

The oats in oatmeal are considered cereals while amaranth is a pseudocereal. The difference here is that cereal grains are types of grass while pseudocereals as just used in many of the same ways. Other pseudocereals include quinoa and buckwheat

Amaranth protein vs oat protein

This section talks about the differences between amaranth and oat protein based on their relative net protein ratios. There are compared to casein protein as a reference point.

For the most part there are not significant differences in the protein of amaranth and oats when either of them are compared to meat, eggs and dairy. However, when you compare them to one another they are quite different.

When compared to casein, amaranth protein has a relative net protein ratio of just over 80%. This basically means you can multiply the grams of protein in a serving of amaranth by 0.8 to get a rough estimate of how much protein you can count on digesting.

Oats on the other hand have a relative net protein ratio of about 78%, very close to peanut butter. This means you would need to eat just over 2 cups of cooked oatmeal to get the same amount of protein you get from 10 grams of casein.

Amaranth is a lot more efficient when it comes to volume. We will use the results from the cooking section of this article that showed 1 cup of uncooked amaranth yields 3.5 cups of cooked amaranth. You only need 1.5 cups of cooked amaranth to get the equivalent of 10 grams of casein. This equals out to 342 calories total. The 2.13 cups of oatmeal weighs in at 337 calories.

Amino acids in amaranth vs oats

The total protein from eating oats or amaranth is comparable when it comes to the amount, but what about the amino acids? This section talks about the differences between amaranth and oat protein based on their protein digestibility corrected amino acid score, or PDCAAS. There are compared to casein protein as a reference point.

The PDCAAS is different from relative net protein ratio because it takes the amino acid present in the lowest amounts into account. This is an important consideration if you are thinking about replacing high quality animal based proteins.

Based on the Protein quality evaluation Report of Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation published in 1989 the PDCAAS for casein is 1.00. The same source puts oats at 0.57. Amaranth comes in at 0.64.

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Pyrex Glass Bowl Double Boiler

In my experience, a Pyrex bowl works well as a double boiler. However, Pyrex bowls are not designed for stove top use so proceed at your own risk.

Despite the name, when using a double boiler the heat should not actually bring the water to a boil. The low heat levels should be safe for your Pyrex especially when you consider they are safe to use inside the oven.

For reference, on my stove I make scrambled eggs and fry pork chops with a heat setting of about 4.5 out of 10. When I am using a Pyrex as a double boiler the heat is about a 5 out of 10.

155 Degrees Fahrenheit

One thing to consider is how big the pot is relative to the bowl. You want plenty of room to grab the Pyrex without getting too close to the pot. I have used a 2.5 quart Pyrex and a pot with a 7 inch inside diameter. A 2.5 quart Pyrex bowl is 10 inches across at the top. With this setup I was able to get the contents of the top of the double boiler up to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. This is hot enough to melt the butter in my pudding recipe.

170 Degrees Fahrenheit

Unfortunately, the setup described above will not get hot enough to make something like custard. Custard recipes that call for a double boiler are taking advantage of the emulsifying abilities of an egg yolk without cooking them.

Using a pot with a 7 inch diameter will not heat the Pyrex enough to bring the contents to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. I ended up using an 8 inch pot, the bottom of my stainless steel steamer, with a 4 quart Pyrex bowl to get to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

A 2.5 quart Pyrex also fits in an 8 inch pot if that is what you have at home. However, the 4 quart gives you some extra distance between the edge of the glass bowl and the heated pot.

Water Level

An important thing to keep an eye on is the water level inside the pot. If the water evaporates the pot will heat up like a frying pan does. I think this is where there is a risk of damaging the sides of the Pyrex. You can also ruin the surface of the pot with continued heat and no water.

Chances are you will be watching whatever is in the top of the double boiler quite carefully. It would be a pretty big oversight not to notice the water running out.

If you have any experience using a Pyrex as a double boiler be sure to let us know about it in the comment section below.

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Pudding

Enjoy this plain or with a giant scoop of peanut butter.

Ingredients

  • 2.5 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons sodium citrate
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups chocolate casein protein powder
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Tools

  • 2.5 quart Pyrex bowl
  • A pot with an inside diameter between 7 and 8 inches
  • Fork or whisk
  • Knife
  • Spatula
  • All the measuring utensils for the ingredient list

Instructions

  1. Pour 2.5 cups water and 2 teaspoons sodium citrate into the glass bowl. Stir until the sodium citrate is completely dissolved.
  2. Stir in 2 cups casein and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder. Adding it in bit by bit and stirring until it is dissolved will make for a lighter pudding. Adding it all in at once yields a denser consistency.
  3. Cut the butter into about 8 pieces as you add it to the mixture.
  4. Fill the pot with about an inch of water and put it on the stove. The heat should be low enough that the water will not boil. For reference, on my stove I make scrambled eggs and fry pork chops with a heat setting of about 4.5 out of 10. When I make this recipe the heat is about a 3 out of 10.
  5. Carefully place the glass bowl on top of the pot. The bowl will gradually heat and allow you to stir in the butter with either a fork or spatula.
  6. Once all the butter has melted remove the bowl from the pot. Allow the bowl to cool first or put it in the refrigerator immediately. Either way, it must be stored in the refrigerator.
  7. You may need to stir the pudding a little to get it back to the right consistency before eating.

More information

The instructions are very precise but there is room to change things about this recipe. The cocoa powder is done to taste so feel free to add more or remove it entirely.

If you assume a cup of casein is about 3.5 scoops the caloric content of the recipe as written is:

  • 140 grams protein, 560 calories
  • 48 grams fat, 432 calories
  • 21 grams carbohydrates, 84 calories – these come from the casein powder I use, yours may be different

The butter can be reduced down to two tablespoons and you will still have a reasonable texture. If you take the sodium citrate down to 1.5 teaspoons you get a very dense texture that will resemble, in my opinion, some type of pie filling.

The sodium citrate is the magic ingredient for this recipe. It allows the casein and butter to “slide” past each other to give this a pretty exact replica of regular pudding.

The heating method, a double boiler, is admittedly a little complex. I use it to avoid heating the mixture too much and to know exactly when the butter is melted. You might be able to get away with simply microwaving the water before adding anything to it. Work fast, it needs to hot enough to melt the butter into the other ingredients.

The casein to water ratio is important. Using one cup of water to one cup of casein will look fine as you are making the pudding. However, once it cools down and sets it will be very close to a solid.

I would not add sugar to this recipe. Any time I combine sugar and sodium citrate I end up with a gummy and unappealing texture. If you are looking for more flavor try increasing the cocoa powder.

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