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How to cook a chicken breast

We love chicken breasts - the problem is that I don't really know how to cook them without a sauce properly - just a straight saute would be nice - plain chicken - I'm actually better with the fancier stuff than just a simple recipie. Could anyone give me a tip as to how to cook them without involving the smoke detector, burnt bits at the bottom and that awful dry texture that seems to appear whenever I cook them? Thank you so much!

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  1. Do you pound them flat first? I do that, marinate in buttermilk (or other liquids, whatever I have at home that would work, yogurt, eggs, milk). Bread in seasoned flour, pan fry on each side until done, remove from pan and keep warm. Use wine to deglaze (or I'll add chopped veggies first and cook them and then add wine). At this point, add whatever seasonings you want, marsala, lemon juice, butter, capers, etc. Simmer, add chicken breasts back and simmer a little. Or, you can partially cook the chicken, add it back after making the sauce and then put it in the oven. A lot of good variations but pounding them flat makes the difference. The burnt bits at the bottom make a good sauce.

    1. Chicken breasts need sauce or marinade to cokk properly, the meat is too lean otherwise and will most probably always be disapointed. You don't need to use a lot of oil in your marinade though.

      The trick with chicken breasts (whole or in strips) is to add a little braising liquid one you have browned the outside, it will cook the inside faster and keep it moist.

      You can add water or stock for oven cooking. If you are sautéing strips, adding vegetables with high water content (onions or bok choi for example) will require less liquid, but make sure you do add some, or a bbq stykle sauce to get the process started. I hope my tips help you.

      1. This may be of no help to you, but when I make chicken paprikash on the cooktop, the chicken is partially cooked in the oven first. The chicken is added to the paprikash ingredients already sauteed and simmered as the second to last ingredient for finishing. After the chicken has been throughly cooked, is removed from the sauce so that a mixture of sour cream and flour can be whisked into the sauce. Then the chicken is returned to the thickened sauce.

        Just put the chicken breasts in a baking dish, place in a preheated at 325 degrees for between 20 and 30 minutes. It may be necessary to add some water to prevent the breasts from drying out.

        1. Try them on the grill. This recipe is sooooo easy and delicious. Marinate boneless, skinless breast halves in olive oil and lime juice (2:1 ratio) and whatever combination of herbs, dried or fresh you like. I often use dried tarragon, chopped garlic and oregano. Mix the marinade and put it into a ziploc bag. Salt and pepper the chicken, put it in the bag, zip it up, and distribute the marinade over the chicken. Lay it flat at room temp for 20 minutes or in the fridge for an hour or two, turning every so often. Cook on the grill (oil the grates first) over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes per side. Or, if you want to cook indoors, use the broiler, but preheat it first.

          1. Sounds like your heat is too high, for starters, if you're ending up with burned bits and a dry texture. Chicken breasts cook very quickly...just a few minutes per side...so don't walk away from the pan. A marinade will also help to stave off dryness, and pounding to an even thickness (as mentioned by another poster) helps them to cook evenly & quickly. Sautes are great...simple seasonings go a long way, and you can deglaze the pan once the chicken is cooked with various liquids (fruit juice, leftover wine, chi broth, a squeeze of lemon), toss in your favorite fresh herbs and a pat of butter, and you'll have a great, simple reduction sauce to spoon over the chicken, side veggies, or accompanying starch.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Hungry Celeste

              Really great suggestions - thank you! I am actually bookmarking this page so I can try them all - I only started cooking a few years ago and I am definitely much better at baking than cooking...the cooking usually involves some sort of smoke and some sort of burnt and some sort of yuck! Thanks again-

            2. You probably already know this. Poached and then shredded breasts can be used for all sorts of quick Asian and Latin American dishes--soups, cold with an Asian sauce, in fresh lumpia or tacos, in enchiladas or tamales. I usually have poached and shredded breast in the ref for all sorts of relatively quick (and some more "sophisticated") dishes.

              On the other hand, butterflied and gently flattened (use your fist) and lightly oiled or marinated or spiced breasts grilled/salamandered never fail and are equally quick. The other posts are also right: sear the same in a pan, deglaze for a sauce, and return--is another fail safe method.

              1. I almost always have plain, cooked chicken breasts on hand for everything from topping green salad to quick quesadillas (kids) or burritos (hubby).

                When the weather is nice, I usually throw them on the grill, otherwise, I poach them in the microwave. I used to bake them, but, covered, there seems to be little difference between the oven oven and the microwave.

                They also seem to stay juicier in the microwave since I can't forget about them as I often do when they're languishing in the oven.

                2 Replies
                1. re: mamaciita


                  1. re: ANGELA121783

                    I put them in a microwaveable COVERED container and cook them (I usually have a package of three) for 5:00, then let them sit for 30:00 or so.

                    That said, I know microwaves vary IMMENSELY in power, so make sure they're done.

                2. S

                  Let's assume you want boneless suggestions. I make so much chicken i have feathers and the key to every smile I see is one word, POUND IT! It It should be about 1/2" thick. I then take my seasoning and sprinkle all over and then I take some plastic wrap and slightly press into the meat. At that thickness with a little EVOO in a pan it should not be more than a couple minutes per side. People seem to over cook chicken and therefore way too dry. Likewise on a grill, couple to 3 minutes per side.

                  Now onto the marinade, big fan of this as well and if you pound, marinate and 2-3 minutes per side you have a winner. Then you can do any of the other suggestions with lemon, mushrooms or anything else.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jfood

                    An alternative I've taken to doing rather than pounding is if the b/s chix breast is a big, fat one (as the monster chickens seem to be nowadays), I cut it in half lengthwise. That way, I get two meals out of it (the suckers are usually way too big for a single meal!), and get uniform thickness for even cooking.

                    Edited to say I see it was mentioned already below. Linda - READ the entire thread before answering! :-)

                  2. Brine them. This will make the chix breast juicy and flavorful. Here's a basic technique:
                    Serves 4
                    3/4 cup kosher salt or 6 tablespoons table salt
                    3/4 cup granulated sugar
                    4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves (about 3 pounds)
                    Ground black pepper

                    1. In gallon-sized zipper-lock plastic bag, dissolve kosher salt and sugar in 1 quart of water. Add chicken and seal bag, pressing out as much air as possible; refrigerate until fully seasoned, about 1 hour. Remove from brine, rinse well, and dry thoroughly with paper towels.

                    Pounding to even thickness also makes for better bonesless skinless chix breasts because all parts of the chix cook evenly. There is a really good, simple cookbook by Phillis M. Carey, Fast and Fabulous Chicken Breasts, that has lots of good recipes. I bought it at a cooking demonstration by the author and it's turned out to be a keeper. I think it's probably self-published, the inside cover says:
                    Spoon and Whisk Productions
                    3334 Fosca St.
                    Carlsbad, CA 92009-7836

                    1. Consider using an instant read thermometer with boneless chicken breasts. I find that some I buy are considerably larger than others, in the same package. (This annoys me, why can't they be graded somewhat like fruits and veggies? They're parts!) Thus, they cook to perfection at different times, so use the thermometer. Honestly, I only cook to 145 or 150 in the thickest part of breasts, but I know many would be aghast at that temperature. I really dislike dry chicken, and find that the temp. usually rises a bit when it sits off the heat anyway.

                      1. i sautee boneless chicken breasts in olive oil and onions all the time for a quick healthy meal. the trick is to cook it as quickly as possible so that it doesnt dry out, but not to have the fire so hot that the outside burns before the inside is done. i try not to cook the chicken one second past not being pink any more, cuz then all you are doing after that is causing the moisture to leave the meat. i usually start by cutting the breast(s) into pieces that are exactly the same thickness, rather thin, so that they are all done cooking at the same time. (most breasts have a thick part that then tapers to get rather thin at the other end. i slice the thick part in half so that it is as thin as the thin part before i proceed to cut it into smaller pieces.)

                        1. It sounds to me like you are not cooking them in enough oil/butter. For pan-sauteed chicken breasts, pound them thin, dredge in a little bit of flour that has been seasoned with salt/pepper/herbs, and saute them in a non-stick pan with enough butter or oil to coat the bottom of the pan well. It will only take a minute or two per side.

                          If you want to cook them without dredging, I second the recommendation for grilling (if you don't want to use a charcoal grill, I find that by far the best use for a george forman grill is bonelss chicken breasts. I marinate them first, in a quick marinade made of lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and oil. They only need to go in the marinade for 30 minutes or thereabouts.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: DanaB

                            Thanks again for all the tips - I am finally getting to the grocery store this weekend so I can try some of your suggsestions tomorrow - It's so nice that I might actually be able to cook a tasty chicken breast now! Thanks!

                            1. re: sushieat

                              Then if you like Chicken Pot Pie, got a great recipe for leftovers and real easy. Little Jfood brings her boyfriends over all the time for it. Real winner in the early 20 circuit. Just let me know and I'll post.

                              1. re: jfood

                                jfood, if you need an invitation to post your recipe for Chicken Pot Pie, please consider yourself invited. Michael

                                  1. re: QueenB

                                    That was soooo ditzy on my part i should have just posted. Gotta drink another cup of coffee.

                                    Jfood Chicken Pot Pie

                                    Left over chicken or three single breasts
                                    1 onion diced
                                    6 T butter
                                    1/ 3 C flour
                                    2 ½ C chicken broth
                                    1 pkg frozen peas and carrots (last time I used a 16-ounce bag of peas, carrots, corn and beans, i liked a lot)
                                    Pepperidge Farm puff pastry (One sheet)
                                    1 egg white (optional)
                                    Herb de Provence

                                    ·Begin to defrost the puff pastry. This will take about 40 minutes
                                    ·Heat stock in a pot until simmering
                                    ·Melt butter in sided 10-12” pan and cooked onions over medium heat for 15-20 minutes stirring every minute or so.
                                    ·Add flour and continue to cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. The color should be like blonde hair.
                                    ·Add simmering stock to mixture, whisk until smooth and continue to cook until smooth, at least 1-2 minutes. Season with ~1teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and 1 teaspoon Herb de Provence
                                    ·Add chicken, and vegetables. Mix completely.
                                    ·Place in Corningware round or oblong baking dish
                                    ·Place Puff pastry on top of baking dish and press around. Cut of square corners.
                                    ·Paint with egg white
                                    ·Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes until golden brown

                                    I made and ate last nite. Rest is for little Jfood visit tomorrow night.

                                    My own comments -
                                    - It seems like a lot of butter but you need it for the flour when you add.
                                    - I am still have a wee bit of an issue with the rosemary not softening enough from the HDP, but that's my overcritical nature on my own cooking. Next time I may try softening in a couple of ounces of hot water while I cook and then add at the same time as the stock.


                                    1. re: jfood

                                      Thanks jfood! Looks great...I'll have to make this soon.

                                      1. re: QueenB

                                        My pleasure QB. As i said I made last nite. Also made an onion soup that i did carmelize the onions for, yes 5 hours, slooooow and long. That's for tonight's taste test.

                                        Mrs Jfood and little Jfood returning from outlaws tomorrow night so I have one more nite to cook, eat, watch the NCAA's and wish they were here. Oh well.

                                        BTW - we caught the sarcasm in your other post. Think LD did as well IMHO.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          Do you think I could sub fresh thyme, rosemary and other herbs for the HDP without screwing up the dish too badly?

                                          Thanks for catching my sarcasm. Looks like it got wiped out by the mods, though I'm not sure why.

                                          1. re: QueenB

                                            I think the fresh will do better. When summer hits and my herb garden is up and running I do.

                          2. Maybe I'm too critical but I think that pounding a chicken breast hurts the texture. I slice the breasts to form slices with equal thickess. I get about 3 slices per large breast. Then sautee quickly..it takes almost no time. I find the chicken much more tender and juicy. And slicing is better for the environment..you aren't putting a heavy plastic bag in the landfill or cleaning up splattered chicken juice on your clothes and kitchen.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Rhee

                              I definitely prefer pounded breasts to those sliced horizontally or on the bias to even out the thickness. The cut fibers of the chicken can cook into a rather stringy surface esp when using a medium-heat sautee method (cut surfaces seem to do okay for a high-heat stir-fry). Cutting into the breast muscle causes it to release additional moisture while cooking...they're dry enough without additional moisture loss. In addition, if you just pat the breasts dry before pounding, you don't need to use a baggie or plastic wrap, and you won't get juices everywhere.

                              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                To your point on the fibers, I find that the pounding breaks down the fibers and makes for a much tender end product.

                                I use waxed paper, but if you are concerned on the landfill front, buy some cheap white towels and pound between them.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  Yes, and use your fist to pound. They're more sensitive than other tools.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    Do you really use your fist? I have a good, old fashioned all-metal meat mallet. I wouldn't make much of a dent if I used my fist. In a pinch, a heavy wine bottle or rolling pin also works well.

                                    1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                      I have tried my fist and it was not that effective plus i blew out my rotator cuff 10 years ago and would not want to explain that to my doctor.

                                      I hear that wine bottle not the best but champagne bottle is OK.

                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Despite having studied martial arts for many years (a long time ago), I prefer to use a rubber mallet from Home Depot.

                                      1. re: 2m8ohed

                                        Yes, I feel like there is more precision using my fist. And as Jamie Oliver said, "And you've got one at the end of each of your arms".

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          All I can imagine is John Beluschi doing "Samurai Chicken Pounder" on Saturday Night Live using his forehead as the mallet.

                              2. RULE ONE is to never overcook them, because they will dry out. If you want to experience the succulent flavor of a properly cooked chicken breast, you need to remove it from the heat just before it's done, and let the meat continue cooking on its own. I always finish my chicken breasts on a very low fire, or even a low oven. BREADING helps also. Mine is simple, and I use FRESH BREAD instead of dry crumbs. 1/2 bread crumbs, 1/4 flat parsley, 1/4 grated Parmesan cheese, a few grinds of pepper, and nutmeg. Flour, egg wash, and then PRESS the breading on to the meat. Let the breading set for a few minutes, and fry at low heat. My secret? Sprinkle chopped fresh garlic on top of the meat just before I turn them over to cook the second side, so the garlic cooks underneath the chicken. I add some chicken stock and a glug of white wine to the pan, and a squeeze of lemon juice, cover and reduce the heat to near zero. After they taste this, my guests actually imagine that I know how to cook.

                                1. We usually make bone-in. For that I like the Cook's Illustrated method of baking at 400 for 30-40 minutes. They really stay moist this way and we prefer the flavor of chicken cooked with the bone,
                                  Place them on a foil-lined jelly roll pan, brush them with oil, sprinkle with salt and bake. Of course you can season it up as you like but even a simple prep like this tastes good cooked this way. I do it this way even if I'm cooking chicken to use in a recipe. Then I remove skin and bone and have flavorful, moist chicken to work with.

                                  I think I'll bookmark this thread, too, and try these recipes. They sound so good and we're always ready for a new supper dish.

                                  1. Nice thread. Chicken is such a blank canvas that it's always good to see more flavoring options. Add me to those who feel that the paramount issue is to avoid overcooking. Sometimes I pound the breasts flat, sometimes not. But even pounding is about evening the meat for doneness. So I am more likely to pound a few whacks when dealing with a breast that clearly has a much thicker portion than the thin end. I use a remote probe meat thermometer to ensure that the meat never goes much over 160 degrees.

                                    I like the grill but also to pan-sear for a few minutes on each side and then toss the pan and all into a 375 degree oven for a few minutes.

                                    Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe for the grill involving a lemon/olive oil/herbs marinade. I cannot locate it offhand, but I know it involved marinating the chicken in part of the marinade, and then drizzling the finished chicken with a slightly adjusted version of the remainder of the marinade. What sticks with me is the idea of reserving some (untainted) marinade for a final drizzle. That's a tactic that could be generalized for other seasoning combinations.