I am someone who wavers a lot about dinner. While I do meal plan for the week, I tend to keep those meals flexible to allow for my ever-shifting mood and schedule. So while I may have proclaimed Thursday to be chicken night, if for whatever reason Tuesday feels like a better night for it, I'll swap things around without sweating. But that means I may have to thaw said chicken sooner than I thought.
How long does that actually take? It depends on the method. Luckily, whether there's plenty of time to spare or just a few hours, I've got options.
Thawing in the Refrigerator
The ideal way to thaw frozen chicken is in the refrigerator, as doing so allows for the meat to slowly defrost so that it has time to reabsorb the ice crystals that formed between the fibers, which gives it a better texture when cooked.
More importantly, this method prevents the risk of the chicken entering the temperature danger zone (41°F to 135°F) where bacteria can grow quickly. This method does involve foresight, however, as it will take about 24 hours for the chicken to be completely thawed and ready for cooking.
Thawing in Cold Water
If you forgot to transfer your frozen chicken to the refrigerator last night and you're still hoping to cook it tonight, there is still hope. The second best option is to place the frozen meat in a resealable plastic bag, if it's not already, and submerge it in a large bowl or pot of cold water.
Change the water every 20 to 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold while the chicken is thawing — this will prevent any risk of the meat entering that temperature danger zone I mentioned above. This method can take anywhere between one and three hours, depending of the size and thickness of your chicken.
There's Always the Instant Pot
So what do you do if you forgot to thaw your chicken overnight and don't have a few hours to spare to thaw it in cold water? Before you call for takeout, know that your Instant Pot can save the day. Yep, you can cook chicken from frozen in the Instant Pot!
Cook it the same way you'd cook defrosted meat — just allow for an extra two to five minutes for the frozen meat to come to temperature. The cook time under pressure doesn't change, but it does extend the amount of time it takes the pot to come up to pressure to about 15 minutes instead of 10.