A boneless, skinless chicken breast is one of the most common ingredients found in many American homes. Sure, it is a little more expensive than buying a bone-in chicken thigh, but it is incredibly healthy, ready-to-cook, and wonderfully versatile. It can also be chock full of flavor, which leaves the public wondering why so many at-home cooks settle for a dried-out, grilled chicken breast. What cooking techniques work for cooking chicken, and what should be left alone? Here is your handy guide to chicken-breast nirvana.
Poaching is by far the best technique to ensure a moist, tender chicken breast. Just make sure the liquid never heats past tiny simmering bubbles, and remove the chicken the very second that the thickest part is no longer pink when cut. Try using beer or wine as your poaching liquid to infuse the chicken with extra flavor, and use plenty of aromatics. Poached chicken has an extremely moist, juicy texture and is ideal for shredded chicken salad.
As long as you follow these methods, chicken breasts can be fried to exquisite results.
- Soak the chicken in buttermilk for at least 3 hours or at most overnight. That ensures that the chicken stays tender and moist through the cooking process
- Whatever your breading may be – breadcrumbs, batter, or plain old seasoned flour—make sure to shake excess breading off. You want a crisp coating, not a heavy, gummy shell.
- Fry the chicken in batches, dark meat and white meat. That way, the white meat will not dry out while the dark meat cooks. A thermometer is helpful to tell when the oil is hot enough to begin frying; it should be at 320 F.
Cut the breasts into small pieces and cook them over high heat in a fair amount of oil for a protein-riffic addition to a stir fry. Coat them in cornstarch for a crunchy exterior.
Here is where it gets tricky. Baked chicken often ends up dry and sawdusty because the chicken cooks for too long and without enough fat. Breasts have no fat, so they can’t self-baste – there must be some fat content in there to keep the meat moist. Use olive oil to be heart-healthy or plenty of butter and herbs for a down-home Parisian take. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to tell you when the chicken is cooked and take it out immediately when it is done.
Grilling is really only for seasoned chefs. The high heat and direct contact with fire can mean overdone chicken in some places and raw chicken in other places. To ensure that your chicken does not turn out dry, make the chicken all one thickness—pound it out if need be. A marinade also helps infuse moisture, and grilling it in foil can keep the chicken from betting too charred. The foil can also permeate the chicken breast with aromatics like olives, rosemary, and black pepper. If you are an experienced griller, try cooking your whole meal on the grill, salad included!