Ever since I became a Mom, I’ve acquired a special talent I never knew would come so naturally to me.

No, I’m not talking about changing diapers, shower trips that last less than 2 minutes, or the ability to function like a normal human being (this last point is debatable) on an average of 3 hours of sleep each night.

I’m talking about reading food labels.

Is there artificial food coloring in this? Do they add GMOs to that? Why are these apple fruit bars only 2% apple?!

And Holy Moly! Why is there potato starch in my turkey lunch meat??? How about modified cornstarch? Cellulose powder? Nitrites? And what the heck is Annatto?!

Sidenote– if you want the full breakdown of what you’re eating when you consume store bought lunch meat, Supermarket guru gives you a pretty good rundown. It’s overwhelming to say the least.

And all I wanted was some decent lunch meat in my kids’ sandwich.

Not happening.

For the last several years my kids were pretty much doomed to plain cheese sandwiches, and cheese and tomato sauce pizzas. Deli meat was never spoken of again in our household.

Last week changed all that.

You see, last week I attended another one of those life-changing, eye-opening cooking seminars at one of my favorite local farm gardens, Perivoli sti Vari. The title of the seminar was “Homemade Chicken Lunch Meat”. I could not resist. Surely, it was too good to be true.

And it was too good (but very very true!) It’s one of those recipes that are just too good not to share, which is why I am humbly passing on my newly acquired knowledge today.

Because everyone deserves a guilt free, preservative free lunch meat experience!

In a nutshell, you will need half a pound poultry of your choice, salt and sugar to preserve it, and any herbs and spices that tickle your fancy. No potato starch or cellulose powder! And it tastes just like the unhealthy store bought real deli meat.

A note about preserving or curing meat. Sugar and salt are necessary in order to prevent microbial spoilage and make your lunch meat last. Which is why you cannot substitute the sugar component with a sweetener like stevia. But there’s other great options, so read on to find out!

I got two chicken breasts from my local butcher, each weighing about half a pound. After a quick inspection to make sure there were no random pieces of skin or little nerves hanging out anywhere, they were ready to be cured.

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There’s two ways to do this. You can either do it using your hands or using a plastic ziplock bag. I’m not very fond of salmonella so I went the plastic ziplock bag route.

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For each half pound of chicken, add one teaspoon of regular table salt into the bag, seal it and rub the salt into the chicken. Open the plastic bag and throw in your spices and herbs of choice. I went with white pepper and dried thyme. How much you put is up to you, depending on how strong of a flavor you are trying to achieve. I used one teaspoon of white pepper, and one tablespoon of dried thyme. Other great extras to add (probably not all at the same time, but feel free to experiment) are sweet or smoked paprika and oregano. Seal the bag again and rub in all of your newly added ingredients.

Now, let’s talk about the sugar ingredient for a moment.

My two favorite things to use are honey and molasses. They’re fantastic natural preservatives with the added bonus of rich flavor and vitamins.

Did I just say molasses? Yes, I did. Molasses is the byproduct of sugar extraction from the sugar cane. Basically, to put it plainly, it is the good stuff that contains tons of vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium, and is a great alternative to sugar for diabetics.

Actually, for the above reasons, and its great color and smoky taste, molasses is my number one choice for making deli meat. Open the plastic bag carefully, and pour in one tablespoon of molasses to the chicken. Reseal, rub all over the chicken and place it in the fridge to marinate anywhere between 5 and 72 hours. My ideal time is 24 hours. I usually prepare my chicken as soon as the kids are out the door for school, and bake it the following morning when they’re out the door for school again.

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Fastforward 24 hours, and the chicken is out of the fridge and out of the ziplock plastic bag, looking tinted brown.

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Unless you want it really really salty or sweet, you will need to wash out all the extra salt and sugar that did not get absorbed. Place the chicken in a water bath of cold fresh water for a couple of hours, and put it back in the fridge. Meanwhile, feel free to answer emails, cook dinner, clean the kitchen, or you know, just watch some tv.

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Remove the chicken from the water and pat it dry the best you can. Preheat your oven to 120C/248F on the convection setting. Place a grid in the middle part of the oven.

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Roll up the chicken by tucking the breast’s sides under the center and secure it using a string. You can do fancy knots, or just, you know, wrap it round and round until it feels tight around the chicken.

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Place the chicken on the grill and bake for 35-40 minutes. If you own a meat thermometer, it should read approximately 73C/163F when placed in the center of the chicken to test for doneness.

And so there you have it, your very own homemade, preservative and chemical free deli meat. Keep it in the fridge for up to a week or make several batches ahead and store them in the freezer until you are ready to eat them! Defrost, and enjoy!

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Homemade Preservative-free Chicken Deli Meat

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Special equipment– butcher’s twine

Ingredients
1 chicken or turkey breast, about ½ pound or 250 gr
1 tsp salt
1 tbs molasses (not black strap molasses) or honey
Herbs and spices of choice

Note: Adjust the ingredients according to the weight of your poultry.

Instructions

Place chicken breast in plastic ziplock bag. Add one teaspoon salt into the bag, seal, and rub all over chicken. Open bag, add herbs and spices, reseal and rub all over chicken. Open bag and pour in honey or molasses, reseal and rub all over chicken.

Place ziplock bag in the fridge and let the chicken marinate for 5-72 hours. Discard marinade.

Place chicken in a bowl or pot filled with cold fresh water to get rid of the excess salt and sugar. Place bowl in the fridge for an additional hour.

Preheat oven to 120C/248F on the convection setting, with the grid placed in the middle. Remove chicken from the water and pat dry with kitchen paper towels.

Fold the sides of the chicken breast underneath and secure it in that position by wrapping butcher’s twine around it. Place it in the oven and let it bake for 35-40 minutes. Test for doneness using a meat thermometer which should read approximately 73C/163F when the chicken is cooked through.

Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for up to 6 months.

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5 comments on “Homemade Preservative-free Chicken Deli Meat”

      • Hello again! So I have tried. My biggest concern was if the cooking time was enough. I used πάνω-κάτω με αέρα for 40 minutes, It was way too juicy when I took it out. So I cooked it for other 15 minutes, and then again o grill :). Now it is dry :).
        I must say the taste is great! The idea is great! I’ll certanly do it again and again, but I am going to need some guidance for the cooking time and mode – it is grill με αέρα ή πάνω-κάτω με αέρα?

        • Wow, that sounds like a long time! My guidelines are for a chicken breast that is approximately 250gr in weight, but even slightly larger shouldn’t normally take so long. I use the fan but without the grill on 120C preheated oven. Make sure you dry your chicken the best you can before you wrap it in butcher’s twine. I also stick it on the wire rack in the oven instead of placing it in a baking dish. But even then I only get a couple of drops and at 36 minutes of baking it comes out dry on the surface and just moist enough on the inside. If you have a meat thermometer it should read 73 degrees when your chicken is ready! I hope this helps.. If not let me know!! 🙂

  1. Well, mine was also 250 gr and yes, it was dry on the surface… It is the moisture inside that scared me. I think I’ll buy the thermometer :). Now I think it was just fine, but it was my first time and I preferred to play safe.
    Anyhow, my deli, even dry as it is, has been wolfed by my daughter :), it was really good even overcooked. Thank you so much for the recipe, I have been having the same concerns about supermarket deli meat for years. Take care!

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