Sometimes you want to get creative in the kitchen, sometimes you just want a surefire success to get you through those days (weeks, months …) when working from home has turned into always working. Enter these chicken dishes, simple enough that you can field homework questions from the kids and keep up with the Slack chatter that’s still going after 6 p.m., and impressive enough to demand recognition for how hard you’re trying to keep everyone healthy and happy.
These five picks, most from our “8 & $20” series of weeknight recipes, even feature a home-cooked alternative to a delivery favorite for when you’re feeling guilty about having ordered takeout the past six nights. And of course, affordable wine pairings to make each meal feel just a little more special, even if it is the 415th dinner in a row that you’ve eaten at home while waiting until you can finally get a sitter again.
Like salt, alcohol brings out the flavor in food. This recipe for chicken breasts cooked stove-top in white wine and cream of mushroom soup is a great example. While the chicken browns amid a generous pat of melting butter, the kitchen fills with the aromas of wine and mushrooms, and the final meal looks and tastes more gourmet than it actually is. In truth, it’s easy and comforting enough to be the first recipe a college student learns to make after moving away from home.
The white wine used here shouldn’t be expensive, but it should be something you enjoy drinking. A light- to medium-bodied Italian white, a Greco di Tufo from the Campania region of southern Italy, had just enough weight to match the cream sauce without the pairing feeling heavy, zipping up the finish with well-cut acidity that brightened the dish.
Honey and balsamic bridge the gap between a young Italian red and traditionally hard-to-pair Brussels sprouts. (Julie Harans)
Sheet-pan recipes are great for the busy cook for many reasons: Minimal time in front of the stove and maximum versatility, with fewer dishes to clean. This recipe comes together in under one hour, most of which is spent waiting while the meal is roasting in the oven. And the simple mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which encourages caramelization, can be used to add dimension to numerous other combinations of meat and vegetables.
You should end up with crispy-skinned chicken and very tender vegetables. The roasted Brussels sprouts then get a light toss in honey while they’re still hot, which helps round out the flavors of their charred vinegary exterior and tie them together with the wine: A young, bright Sangiovese from Italy with fragrant herbal notes. With the particularly easy clean-up, you can relax and savor the pairing!
Persillade, a mix of garlic, parsley, scallions and oil, is often used when cooking fish or poultry. (Tom Hopkins)
Though this recipe has a fancy name and comes from a famous French chef, it has only six ingredients (not counting salt, pepper and water) and cooks in under 10 minutes. It comes from Jacques Pépin’s 2017 book, A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen with Shorey, which he wrote and recipe-tested with his then-13-year-old granddaughter, Shorey Wesen. The book is filled with healthy recipes that are approachable for novice chefs, as well as notes on simple dining etiquette. “My grandfather picked them as something that we could make together,” explained Wesen, “as something that he could teach me and that I would enjoy learning.”
To show her that the white meat of chicken and turkey really can be flavorful and moist, Pépin chose this dish, which is sautéed on high heat for no more than six minutes, then dressed in persillade, a provincial mix of garlic, parsley and scallions. He recommends an easy-drinking Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône red blend to pair with it.
DIY instead of delivery: This classic crispy chicken in a sweet, spicy sauce pops with a bright, refreshing white wine. (Julie Harans)
When savory, crisp chicken meets a sweet, sticky sauce in Chinese-American takeout classics like sesame chicken and General Tso’s, the results are irresistible. If you’d like to mimic the style at home without the effort of deep-frying, this recipe is the solution. Add a low-maintenance side of string beans that you roast while perfectly cooking the rice, and you’ve got a craveable dish that cuts some calories.
The sauce is made with pantry staples and allows plenty of wiggle room for substitutions; just keep the key components of sweet, savory and spicy. With that, a Riesling, such as a dry bottling from New York’s Finger Lakes, makes a classic wine pairing. The wine’s high acidity balances the richness of the sauce, while tropical and orchard fruit aromas and flavors offer an impression of sweetness to counter the dish’s heat. Grab a glass and a pair of chopsticks and dig in.
The ripe citrus flavors in a California Sauvignon Blanc make a refreshing counterpoint to the fruit-based salsa. (Greg Hudson)
This dish was inspired by the street food of Los Angeles, where vendors season fresh, juicy tropical fruit with a spicy lime salt—a combination of flavors perfect for a zesty salsa to top chicken breasts. This meal requires minimal cooking time, maybe 15 minutes in front of the stove, though chopping the fruits and vegetables takes a bit more work. Reduce the prep time by buying pre-cut chunks of peeled mango, and dice them down further to the desired size. You can make the salsa the day before and the chicken can marinate overnight, so all you have to do for dinner is sear the meat in a pan or on a barbecue grill.
For a refreshing pairing with the heat in this dish, a Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley offered thirst-quenching citrus and tropical fruit flavors, plus light herbal accents to tie in with the ingredients in the salsa. Warm up some tortillas and serve alongside!