I like to purchase fajita seasoned chicken, beef and pork when it goes on sale at my local HEB grocery store and can it. It’s great for a quick meal of tacos, enchiladas, burritos or a Tex-Mex casserole.
I purchased 5 lbs. of boneless skinless fajita chicken thighs and 4 lbs. of boneless skinless fajita chicken breasts and froze them until I had time to can. I planned a day for canning and put the chicken in the refrigerator far enough ahead of time to ensure that it would be completely thawed before canning.
Meat can actually be prepared the day before or earlier in the day and refrigerated if you don’t have a single block of time to both prepare the meat and can it.
Assemble canning equipment and supplies before the canning session and make sure you have plenty of clean canning jars ready to use. One pint jar holds slightly less than 1 pound of raw-packed meat. I can most of my meat using the raw pack method. The meat is prepared and put in wide-mouth jars without additional liquid. As the meat is pressure canned it will cook and the released juices will mostly fill the jar. Wide-mouth jars are easier to fill and remove meat from than are regular mouth jars when using the raw pack method.
Prepare the thighs by first removing excess fat. It is not necessary to remove all of it, though. Then cut the meat into about 2-inch square pieces.
Prepare the breasts by first removing large pieces of fat. Don’t remove all the fat. Cooked breasts can be dry and a little fat will help them be a little more moist. Then cut them into about 2-inch square pieces.
Put clean canning jars in a sink of hot water, fill them with hot water, or keep them in a hot dishwasher. Jars need to be warm to avoid temperature shock and cracking when they are placed in the canner.
Fill jars with cut-up meat to within 1-inch of the jar rim. This is called a 1-inch “headspace.” Put chicken in so that it fills up empty spaces but don’t press down tightly to try and get as much as possible in. That could result in overfilling and seal failure.
Return filled jars to the sink of hot water to keep them warm.
This chicken is already seasoned so it’s not necessary to add salt or anything else. If it was plain chicken, I would add 1/4 teaspoon of canning salt to each pint jar. Regular salt can be used but it will cloud the broth.
Put canning lids in a small saucepan and cover them with water. Laying every other lid upside down will help keep them from sticking to each other. Heat to simmer but do not boil. Boiling can compromise the sealing compound around the edge of the lid. Keep the pan on low heat until ready to use.
I have a Presto 16-quart weighted canner. The instructions in the canner booklet are to place 3 quarts of boiling water in the canner, so I heat 3 quarts of water to boiling in a Dutch oven or roasting/soup pot.
While the water is heating, take each filled jar out of the sink, wipe the rim with a vinegar soaked paper towel or cloth and put on a warm canning lid and a jar ring. The vinegar will help remove any grease from the jar rim that could keep the jar from sealing. Use a magnetic lid lifter, lid wand or tongs to remove lids from the saucepan. Screw rings on “finger tip tight.” Do not screw them on with your entire hand. Too tight lids will not allow air to escape during processing and can result in buckled lids and failure to seal. Return jars to the water filled sink.
Place the canner rack in the bottom of the canner. Pour in boiling water. Place jars on the rack so that they don’t touch. The canner will hold 8 wide-mouth pints or 9 regular pints. If you have extra chicken and either 4-ounce jelly jars or the squat 8-ounce jars, a second rack can be placed on top of the pint jars to hold the small jars. There is enough room under the lid in the center of the canner to hold 4 to 6 jars. Make sure the rubber gasket is in the lid properly. Check to make sure nothing is blocking the vent pipe. Align the lid properly on the canner and turn it to lock it into place.
Make sure the canner is centered on a large burner and turn heat on to high to exhaust the canner. When steam is flowing free and steady from the vent pipe, set a timer for 10 minutes. The air vent/cover lock pops up about the same time. I start timing when it pops up. Gradually reduce heat about 2 settings during the 10 minutes but keep the steam flow constant.
My stove has 9 settings – LO, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, HI. I start to exhaust the canner on HI and bring it down to 7 by lowering the heat 1 setting at a time about every 3 to 5 minutes.
My canner is a weighted canner instead of a dial gauge canner. The weight is in 3 pieces. Each piece adds 5 pounds pressure. The entire weight is used for 15 lbs. I can at 10 lbs pressure because my altitude is below 1000 feet so I remove 1 ring and use a 2-piece weight.
When the canner has exhausted for 10 minutes, put the weight on the vent pipe. Leave the heat setting where it is (mine is on 7). The canner will take a little longer to come up to pressure but it will be easier to reach a maintenance temperature for the processing period if you don’t move it back to HI.
When the weight starts rocking steadily, start the timer for 75 minutes for pints (90 minutes for quarts). Anything smaller than a pint processes for pint time. Also lower the heat by half a setting. Continue lowering the heat in half setting increments every 3 to 5 minutes until the weight rocks steadily without being frenetic. I stop at setting 5.
When the processing time is over, turn off the heat. Carefully remove the canner from the burner, if desired.
Allow the canner to cool undisturbed until the air vent/cover lock drops. Remove the weight and let the canner cool another 10 minutes. This will prevent liquid from siphoning out of the jars when you remove them from the canner.
Turn the lid counter-clockwise to remove it. Lift the lid toward you to avoid having steam rise into your face.
Using a jar lifter, remove each jar from the canner and set them on a rack or towel away from drafts to cool.
You should hear a “pop” or “ping” as each jar seals. The lids will become slightly concave. Wait several hours before testing the lids to make sure they have sealed. Any that haven’t vacuum sealed (sucked down) by the time the jars are mostly cooled should be refrigerated, eaten or reprocessed. Allow jars to completely cool (12 to 24 hours) before removing rings, washing and labeling them for storage. Do not store jars with rings on them. Canning rings can trap moisture and disguise an unsealed lid.
Homecanned chicken is tender like freshly boiled or cooked chicken and has a much better flavor than commercially canned chicken. Plain, unseasoned chicken produces a rich broth which can be used in recipes calling for chicken broth. Just drain it from the jar into a freezer container and freeze for future use. It’s especially good in Chicken Noodle Soup!