Looking for an affordable way to make chicken more interesting? I took inspiration from that popular Olive Garden dressing chicken recipe that keeps popping up on social media to come up with a 3-ingredient dish with infinite possibilities. Trust me, chicken will never be boring again!
Cheap Chicken Recipe Formula with Infinite Possibilities
So, full disclosure: I’m using paid stock pictures for this post instead of my own. I’m not a food photographer, and I don’t want my lack of skills to turn you off from what really is a delicious and SUPER CHEAP chicken recipe. I really miss the days where we could just share a recipe without worrying about whether the freaking pictures are “pin-worthy,” but that’s a rant for another day.
FYI, I did use a few affiliate links below where I recommended different dressings. If you buy through them, I get a small commission. That said, you don’t have to order any of this stuff online, all of the dressings I’ve tried were in my grocery store.
Here are the basic ingredients. Note the asterisks, I’ll explain those in a minute.
- 2- lbs. chicken breast*
- Two 16 oz. bottles of dressing (you won’t use all of the second one, but trust me, you want it)***
- 8oz brick of cream cheese IF using a cream dressing, skip if not**
- Box of pasta- anything goes
- Optional: Cheese for topping (Usually Parm, but cheddar or mozzarella works for some dressings, too)
How to Make It in a Slow Cooker
- In this order, put the chicken, one bottle of dressing, and cream cheese brick into your slow cooker.
- Set it on low for 8 hours or high for 4.
- Start the pasta when there’s about half an hour left.
- Pour about half of the second bottle of dressing into the drained pasta and stir to keep it from sticking.
- Serve the chicken on a bed of pasta, and spoon (or ladle, whatever) some more of the sauce (and, if necessary, extra dressing) over top.
- Optional: top with whatever cheese makes sense. Parmesan goes with almost anything, but shredded cheddar is nice with some dressing!
How to Make it in an Oven
- Preheat oven to 400
- Cube the cream cheese (it doesn’t have to be perfect, just break it up a bit)
- Drizzle a bit of the dressing on the bottom (just enough to coat it)
- Add the chicken, then pour the rest of the dressing on top.
- Add the cream cheese. Just drop cubes/bits all over the place.
- Bake for 35-50 minutes, depending on how thick your chicken is (check the thickest piece to see if it’s done)
- Cook pasta according to instructions. Time it so that it’s done around the same time as your chicken.
- Mix about 1/2 of the extra bottle of dressing into the pasta. Save the rest in case anyone wants a bit more.
- Serve chicken on top of pasta, with some of the sauce spooned on top.
- Optional- top with cheese.
Within the asterisks lie the infinite possibilities
Remember those asterisks? That’s where the infinite possibilities come into play!
I discovered that this one base formula works for a zillion different types of cheap chicken recipes when I was too broke to buy the original Olive Garden Signature Italian Dressing. It’s delicious for sure, but it’s also fairly pricey and I used double the amount than the recipe calls for since I was making more chicken.
So, I figured, why not try using other creamy dressings? It can’t hurt, right? Worst case, we eat gross chicken for one night. Then I thought, I wonder if it works non-creamy dressings? How about with potatoes? Other pastas? And so, here we are, with almost infinite combinations! Here are all of those asterisks explained, plus some of my favorite combos so far.
Chicken breast alternatives
- Tenderloins (best alternative)
We use regular chicken breast or chicken tenderloins. I imagine you can also use thighs or heck, even drumsticks.
I have weird issues with cutting chicken (just touching the fat makes me gag), so I don’t use thighs. I tried that once and ended up retching the entire time, plus I cut off so much of it that there was like .5 pounds left out of 2!
I’m also not a fan of dark meat chicken, so drumsticks don’t work for me, either. If you’re not as picky an eater as I am, though, anything goes really.
Sometimes I just trim the fat off the breasts and cook them whole, other times I cut them into small chunks. Heck, you can even shred the chicken if you want!
Potatoes instead of pasta
Depending on the type of dressing you decide to use, you can swap out the pasta for potatoes (or, I suppose, cauliflower or other veggies, but I use potatoes).
I usually go with red or gold, and slice them into bite-size pieces (like below) and throw them in with the chicken. If you go that route, it becomes a 1-dish meal and you don’t even have to deal with the pasta.
When to leave the cream cheese out
First, you can leave the cream cheese out whenever you want. If you do, though, it won’t be as creamy. That said, if I’m NOT using a creamy dressing to begin with, I omit it and just use extra dressing.
Dressings to try
Again, literally anything goes, depending on your tastes. Below are some of my favorites, broken down into “with pasta” and “with potatoes.” Most of these dressings are cheaper if you just buy them from your grocery store, especially now that Amazon got rid of Prime Pantry. So, check first before buying online.
- Ken’s Creamy Italian
- Ken’s Creamy Garlic Parmesan
- Wishbone Cream Italian Dressing
- Ken’s Asian Sesame with Ginger & Soy (use angel hair for best results, and you can even throw in stir-fry veggies).
- Peppercorn ranch
- BBQ Sauce (I like Sweet Baby Rays, but whatever you like best is fine)
- Any ranch dressing (good with both pasta and potatoes)
- Zesty Italian (not the creamy stuff)
Toppings and other tips
First, you don’t have to add any sort of topping if you don’t want to. If you do, though, here’s what I recommend.
- For any type of Italian dressing recipe, Parmesan cheese is awesome.
- For the BBQ chicken, cheddar cheese is amazing.
- If you go with an Asian-style dressing, sesame seeds are perfect.
While you could probably get away with one bottle of dressing– especially if you’re also using cream cheese- I like to have some extra for the pasta to keep it from sticking. Plus, I add a little extra when I heat it up the next day in the microwave.
If you like the idea of slow-cooking, but you only have, say, three hours to go before dinner, you can slow cook for 2.5, then “fast cook” for the rest of the time on 350. Either transfer it to a baking pan or just use something like the Instant Pot Aura (I actually use a Ninja Auto-IQ Cooker, but they don’t sell it anymore).
I think that about covers it! When I make this, it costs about $10 or less for dinner for me, my mom and my son the first night, plus leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day for me and my mom (my son doesn’t like most leftovers). So, like $1.42 per meal.
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Last update on 2021-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API