The Secrets to UN-Sucky Chicken Breasts
Let’s face it, boneless skinless chicken breasts, perhaps single most common meat on the American dinner plate, often taste like crap. They can dry out easily. They can be tough. Or if they aren’t tough, they’re often flappy and chewy. And they can taste like cardboard.
The reality is, chicken breasts are a hard meat to get right. It’s a lean cut, without a lot of inter-muscular fat. Fat provides moisture and flavor….and without much of it, you’re already walking a culinary tightrope. Chicken breasts are also very mild in flavor…which is why you so often see classic chicken breasts recipes heavily seasoned, sauced or stuffed. You need some additional ingredients to bring more flavor to the party.
But don’t despair. With a few bit of knowledge, a few tips and tricks, and a decent amount of practice, you can make great tasting chicken breasts. So with that, I give you No Recipe Required’s:
Secrets to Unsucky Chicken Breasts
- Believe it or not, but the quality of the chicken matters quite a bit. “Regular” chicken breasts bought in the market can taste great…but if you can find (and afford as they are not as cheap) free range & natural diet chicken, you will be able to taste the difference.
- Prior to cooking, I often like to pound out the chicken breast. Pounding the breast out, makes it a uniform thickness, which means its easier to cook through without under or over cooking thinner or thicker parts.
- Pounding the chicken out also gives the breast more surface area for spices, and more area to sear, which also creates flavor
- If however, you don’t want to pound out the chicken breasts, that’s fine, it will simply take longer to cook through in the oven
- Allow the chicken to come up to room temperature, coat with a thin layer of olive oil, and season liberally with at least salt and pepper.
- If you’d like (you don’t need too), this is a great time to add some additional spice rubs. Remember that chicken has a mild flavor, so just about anything will work well; and there are numerous BBQ, Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc…pre-made rubs you can buy.
- I generally choose to grill or pan roast & finish in the oven, my chicken breasts. Either will give the chicken a hard, dark sear on the outside. That sear is critically important, as it provides most of the flavor, as well as a texture contrast between the crusty outside and the tender, juicy inside.
- The directions below are using the pan & oven, but if you’re grilling, follow the same steps on the grill.
- Under both techniques, the key is to cook over very high heat to get a sear on both sides of the chicken. Then, if the center is not yet cooked through after searing, you finish the chicken in a hot oven (or closed grill).
- Make sure to pre-heat your pan over medium high heat for a few minutes & that oven is pre-heated to 400 degrees.
- Coat the pan with a thin layer of olive oil, and lay the chicken down, presentation side first.
- You should hear a loud sizzle; if you don’t, remove the chicken quickly, and heat the pan more
- Allow the chicken to sear (uncovered) for 3 – 4 minutes without touching it; you need consistent contact with the pan to get a good sear.
- Turn the chicken over with tongs (don’t poke with a fork), and you should see a deep golden brown sear on that cooked side. If not, let it sear another minute or two, and then sear the other side for 3 – 4 minutes
- With some practice, you’ll be able to tell when the chicken is cooked through. If your pan was hot enough both sides will be golden brown, and when you press on the chicken it’s firm and a bit bouncy.
- The best way to tell if the chicken is done is an instant read meat thermometer, and you want to see it at 160 in the center. If you’re below 160, move the whole pan into the pre-heated oven to finish cooking.
- If your pan isn’t oven proof, have an oven proof dish already pre-heated in the oven and transfer the chicken to it. (If grilling, move the chicken to in-direct heat like the top rack, and close the lid)
- The worst way to tell if the chicken is cooked, is to cut into it; it may be unavoidable if you really don’t know how to tell, and don’t have a thermometer, but the juice will run out of the breast and you’ll end up with a drier piece of chicken.
- After you cook the chicken a few time, paying attention to how the chicken feels after it’s cooked, you’ll get better at telling by feel - or buy a thermometer
- Once cooked, allow the chicken to rest for about 5 minutes. Resting the chicken allows the juices to settle down and re-absorb into the meat and will give you more tender, juicy chicken.
- If you’re making a sauce, now is a great time to finish it off.
- Once rested, your chicken breasts are ready to serve.
- And with a bit of practice, I guarantee, they will be UN-Sucky every time!