Chicken legs make for a fast, nutritious and tasty meal. They often come frozen, and defrosting the chicken legs can take a long time. One way to save time is by safely cooking the legs by baking them in the oven from frozen. This saves you the trouble of defrosting the legs, although there are some important points to keep in mind, namely the proper cooking temperature and seasoning the meat well.
Cooking Frozen Chicken
Chicken left out to thaw is an ideal breeding ground for bad bacteria. One way to mitigate this risk is to cook the chicken legs from frozen because the meat cooks while it is thawing. Cooking chicken legs from frozen is especially convenient if you only need to cook a small amount such as one or two legs. Thawing the chicken legs prior to cooking them may often be more trouble than it is worth. Cooking chicken legs from frozen does, however, take longer. To do so requires at least 50 percent more cooking time if not more.
Seasoning Frozen Chicken
Chicken legs should not be coated or seasoned in a frozen state. If chicken legs are seasoned while they are frozen, the meat will not absorb the flavors and aromatics that you are trying to add to the dish. Season or coat the legs with a marinade or dry rub prior to freezing the meat. If you are pressed for time and did not season the legs before freezing, partially defrost the legs by heating them in the microwave for one to two minutes on the defrost setting. This thaws the exterior of the leg while keeping the interior frozen. Coat the legs with seasonings -- the legs may not coat as evenly -- and immediately bake them.
Bake Chicken Legs
Frozen chicken legs can be baked as is or with other liquids and seasonings. This second option is especially useful if you are not able to season the legs before freezing. Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the frozen legs in an oven-safe pan along with any liquid, seasonings or root vegetables. A good blend is olive oil, crushed garlic, oregano, marjoram and lemon juice. Add potato and carrot pieces as you like. For less fuss, you may use a mix of white wine, Dijon mustard and minced garlic. Place the pan with the chicken in a center rack and cook for 50 to 60 minutes. Skin-on chicken legs self-baste so leave the legs untouched until they are cooked.
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Checking for Complete Cooking
Use an instant-read thermometer to test chicken for doneness as only a thermometer ensures an accurate reading. Chicken is safe to eat when the internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part of the leg; do not touch the bone when taking a reading. When cooked, chicken turns white and firms up and the juices run clear. However, in young chickens, the meat near the bone may stay pink when fully cooked. The veins in the legs also sometimes leak dark-colored blood, even though the meat is fully cooked.
David Grimes has worked professionally as a chef since 2002, in settings as wide-ranging as a corporate caterer and as a sous chef in a Michelin-starred French restaurant. He has been writing about food since 2009 and published in "Time Out New York" and "Food and Wine" magazine.