How to Say Goodbye to Boring, Rubbery Chicken Breast!
And hello to cooking it right
Whatever your personal opinion might be, let’s face it: chicken breast is one of the most popular proteins...However, it’s maybe also the most confusing and wrongly cooked one and has more of a reputation for being healthy than delicious, a status that may have inspired Julia Moskin’s words for NYT Cooking: “Finding a higher purpose for boneless, skinless chicken breasts is a lifelong mission.”
One easy solution is to start shopping for skin-on and bone-in chicken breasts, as the skin adds fat which prevents the protein from drying out. But in reality what we encounter more often is boneless and skinless chicken breast (BSCB). Luckily, you are not in this fight alone.
1. Safety first: Is your chicken breast cooked?
I strolled into the test kitchen armed with one question and zero context: “So Christian, what is the best way to cook chicken breast?” He didn’t think much before he answered (standard), “Don’t overcook it.” Which brings us to our first point: We are all united in our fear of undercooked or overcooked chicken breast.
The USDA specifies that the safe internal ‘cooked’ temperature as be 165ºF/70ºC: 4 oz. (approx. 115 g) boneless chicken breast halves should follow these heating rules:
- roasting at 350ºF/180ºC for 20 to 30 min.
- simmering for 25 to 30 min
- grilling for 6 to 8 min. per side
A meat or instant-read thermometer is a great tool to avoid overcooking while erring on the safe side. If you don’t have it, make sure the juice runs clear and not pink. According to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book Food Lab, it’s a matter of both temperature and time. As the meat will continue to cook after being removed from heating, if it reaches 150ºF/65ºC internally for around 3 minutes, chicken breast is safe to eat. That means, most of the time, we need to let the chicken rest for approx. 5 to 10 minutes before serving, and the result will be tastier and juicier for it.
2. Prep your chicken
If you’re gonna learn one thing from this article, it should be the following: Don’t cook a whole chicken breast without preparing it. No matter if you are frying, grilling or baking your chicken, prepping is essential. Before you begin: let it come to room temperature before cooking, a normal cut needs approx. 20 min.
As for other lean cuts of meat, a dry or wet brine is the least complicated way to help it preserve moisture. There have been disputes about which one is superior. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt suggests that salting and resting your meat is “scientifically proven” to be better than wet brining. And it’s less fussy. If you’re not going to brine or marinate your chicken, please season generously with salt.
How to brine (dry and wet)
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However: marinades do impart flavors into the whole chicken breast and can be fast acting. Examples are our chicken tikka masala; the curry coconut marinade in this satay recipe, or honey-mustard marinade in this recipe. Lemon, mustard, honey and yogurt usually work excellently for chicken.
For more inspiration, Ruby’s marinade and rub guide should be on your to-read list! Both brining and marinating need time, from at least 30 min., up to overnight in the refrigerator. During my research, I also found out Christian’s secret marinade: smoked paprika powder, raw sugar, garlic (or garlic powder), lime (juice and zest), thyme, salt and pepper. He recommends letting the chicken sit for 6 hours.
The seemingly easiest way is to pan-fry. If you get it right, your dinner could be only 20 mins away!
The trick is pretty easy: make cutlets. Making any meat cuts turn into schnitzel is pure magic. They are also the savior for weeknight dinners. It essentially involves a few steps before cooking: cutting (similar methodology as butterfly ), pounding, and optionally breading. If you are a die-hard Schnitzel fan, read Devan’s research about it and check out its relations around the world.
Tenderizing chicken breasts with a meat-pounder is a great technique for larger cuts (just use the flat side instead of the spiked side), as it leads to even thickness, even cooking, and dredging in flour and/or beaten eggs provides it an extra coating from direct heat—that has the added benefit of becoming a crispy layer too!
Make sure the pan is hot enough. Add neutral-tasting vegetable oil with a high smoke point. Wait until one side is cooked until opaque or even browned before flipping, or up to 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the cut. For more juiciness, you can add some butter to baste it. Gordon Ramsay, for one, will be extremely happy if you baste your chicken breasts—and let’s face it, he could do without another kitchen nightmare. Other ways of ensuring that the chicken breast it cooked through is to transfer it to the oven, or put a lid on the frying pan and continue to cook over heat over low heat, or, to simply let it rest in a foil like a steak.
Our favorite chicken-in-a-pan recipes:
Stuffed chicken breasts, often paired with herbs, greens, cheese, or wrapped in another kind of meat, are another way to get around bland flavor and textures.
Why not stir-fry?
Among your countless encounters with chicken breast, I highly recommend you to try stir-fry at least once. It’s the same philosophy as mentioned above for cutlets: A simple tempura will let it absorb more flavor from the sauce and stay juicy. My own marinade for (almost) any Chinese stir-fry chicken recipe is to marinating in starch, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine for just 10 minutes, which will give you a whole different Kung Pao Chicken.
4. In the oven
Compared to pan-frying, oven-baked chicken breasts can serve as an easy, crowd-pleasing main and often bring out juicer results, as long as you follow the prep tricks. For oven-baked chicken breasts, brushing both sides with oil or melted butter will prevent sticking.
Many recipes start withsearing in a pan, which gives a nice brown outer and increases flavor. Then move to the oven for further heating, as this 5-ingredient chicken recipe. The same rub and marinating principles go for baked chicken breasts, and remember, to rest them briefly before serving!
...and even more recipes to the rescue!
Do you have a favorite way to cook chicken breasts? Are you still in need of more tips? Let us know in the comment section!
Published on January 25, 2020