What to Eat With Chicken? Depends How You're Cooking It

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

I've always enjoyed planning dinner. I'm usually mid-breakfast when I start dreaming up a menu, plotting my day around a grocery store trip (hey, when you work at home, you gotta get out of the house somehow). But since my daughter was born eight months ago, I've found that there's never enough time for scheming, and after a rough night's sleep, my mind is often a complete blank. "What goes with chicken?" seems like a silly question, but sometimes it's one that I can't manage to answer. Maybe you've been there.

So I decided to ask our culinary team for some advice. Turns out, while you can eat pretty much anything with chicken, the best options really depend on how you're cooking the bird. As Kenji points out, roasting a chicken means your oven's already on, so it's easy and efficient to prepare side dishes in the oven as well. If you're grilling, you may not want to run back and forth to the kitchen, so it's ideal to prepare a good salad ahead of time. Once you know your chicken-cooking method, coming up with the rest of your menu is pretty straightforward. Now, let's break it down a little.

Roast Chicken

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Skin-on roast chicken is rich and filling; a crisp salad is the perfect counterpoint. Dress the best greens you can find with a simple vinaigrette, and you're good to go. Got bitter greens like radicchio or endive on hand? Toss 'em with our bright tangerine and fennel vinaigrette, or make this creamy citrus version. We also love to top our salads with crunchy shaved beets and radishes. If you want a warm side dish to accompany your bird, though, we've got a few other recommendations for you.

Let's start with oven-cooked options. Sometimes there's a helpful all-in-one solution, as with these pan-roasted chicken pieces, which come with their own side dish: vegetables that are par-cooked before roasting, so they wind up perfectly tender by the time the chicken is done resting.

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Want to cook the chicken whole? Our butterflied roast chicken cooks in a 500°F oven, and you can make use of the racks that aren't holding your bird for roasting some sides. New potatoes are great candidates for roasting, especially if you boil them a bit first to soften, then stir 'em roughly to increase crispety-crunchety surface area. Prefer russets? Here's our method for the crispiest roast russet potatoes you've ever had.

Looking for something less starchy? Since the chicken takes about 45 minutes in the oven, followed by a quick rest, you can pop these Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet and slide it in the oven in the last 20 minutes or so before the chicken finishes. Keep an eye on doneness—having the sprouts in the oven may increase the cooking time of both dishes a little.

But you probably didn't need us to tell you that you can serve basic roasted vegetables with roast chicken. You're looking for more exciting ideas. Try jazzing up your Brussels sprouts with sweet roasted shallots and tangy balsamic vinegar, or dress roasted cauliflower with a sweet and savory vinaigrette that includes capers, raisins, and pine nuts. Or cook some butternut squash alongside your chicken, then toss the squash with fregola, a toasted Sardinian pasta, plus fresh mint, parsley, and lemon zest for a little brightness.

Photograph: Vicky Wasik

If your favorite part of a chicken dinner is the luscious pan sauce, you'll want to refer to Kenji's tips for how to get restaurant-style richness at home. Then you can choose between roasted chicken breasts with a fancy (but easy) white wine–based sauce, this variation with morel mushrooms, or this bright and woodsy lemon and rosemary version. We also love roast chicken with soubise, a versatile creamy onion sauce that takes kindly to a little curry powder. If you're making a killer sauce, you'll want sides that can soak it up. I'm partial to thick, smooth polenta cooked on the stovetop, but sometimes you just need fluffy mashed potatoes. Feeling a little more adventurous? These tender homemade gnocchi are easier to make than you'd think.

While I've been known to serve a big pan of stuffing with a regular weeknight meal, I tend to gravitate toward lighter bread-based dishes come spring and summer. The Italian bread salad panzanella is a favorite, but if you can't find good tomatoes, try your chicken with this flavor-packed asparagus version instead.

Grilled Chicken

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

A menu featuring grilled chicken is really a physics problem: You cannot be in two places at once. If you're outside monitoring your bird as it browns and picks up a whiff of smoke, you'll hardly want to dash back to your stove every five minutes to prep fussy sides. Bold salads are your friends here; get them ready in advance and let the flavors mingle while you attend to the grill. With Northern Thai–style grilled chicken, try this spicy pomelo and green bean salad, and offer your guests some crunchy raw veggies and roasted chili dip to start. Peruvian-inspired grilled chicken is nice with a corn salad—this version has raw corn, grape tomatoes, feta, and shiso, or try this chorizo-laced salad with cilantro and lime. Chickpea salads, like this bacon and poblano number or this one with cumin and celery, take especially well to prepping ahead, absorbing flavor as they rest overnight.

Bean Salad With Radicchio, Radish, Pickled Onions, and Marcona Almonds
Photograph: Vicky Wasik

Our juicy, spicy jerk chicken needs something cooling, like buttermilk coleslaw or a bean salad with radicchio and pickled onions. If you want a little white rice on the side, this is the time to get out your rice cooker.

With smoky whole barbecue chicken or grilled butterflied chicken, stir up a traditional potato salad or this Yukon Gold potato salad with tarragon pesto. If tomatoes are in season, celebrate with Caprese (step away from the balsamic!) or this Tomato, Apricot, and Feta Salad With Mint.

Fried Chicken

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Classic Southern fried chicken cries out for classic Southern sides. Call your oven into service to deliver flaky buttermilk biscuits or moist golden cornbread. (I'm partial to this remarkably tender version made with butter browned in your cast iron skillet, but you might prefer this old-school unsweetened cornbread recipe.) And, while you could put your fried bird on plain old waffles, it's pretty tempting to choose mac and cheese waffles or green chili–corn waffles instead. Balance your plate with green bean salad and Creamy Coleslaw.

Photograph: Vicky Wasik

Looking for a DIY project for the days leading up to your fried chicken feast? Whip up an assortment of homemade pickles: asparagus with tarragon, snap peas with mint and fennel, spicy dilly beans, and tangy bread and butter pickles. Don't forget the watermelon limeade.

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Making an izakaya-style Japanese meal featuring crispy karaage? Stock your freezer with homemade gyoza, then cook them according to Kenji's instructions. Add luscious miso-glazed eggplant and Japanese-inflected potato salad. Want some greens? Try dressing them in this mellow vinegar-free dashi "vinaigrette."

Braised Chicken

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Braised chicken gives you two gifts: the tender meat itself, plus the sauce that simmers around it. I tend to think of the sides primarily as vehicles for that sauce: with coq au vin or this bird braised with cabbage and bacon, for example, you really just want a good loaf of bread, or maybe buttered noodles or mashed potatoes. If you're craving a texture contrast, you could roast your potatoes while the chicken cooks on the stovetop. Serve a simple green salad on the side.

Photograph: Joshua Bousel

If you're braising chicken legs with chile verde, you could swap out the bread or noodles for tortillas. Make your own thin and tender flour tortillas, or try your hand at the soft and chewy Tex-Mex style ones. Want fresh corn tortillas? Get yourself a bag of Maseca and follow these steps.