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Chicken Problem

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The subject is: boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (none of us like dark meat, and hubby's doctor-ordered diet requires skinless).

The cooking method is, "drowning" in liquid sauces, either in the oven or the crock pot--(covered, in either case).

On three separate occasions, cooked by three different people (myself, and each of my daughters), the chicken has been the most miserable, dried-out, chewy meal we have ever had the misfortune to eat.

The crock-pot dishes simmered on 'low' for about 4 hours, (while we did Christmas shopping, in one case), the oven dish cooked for not quite a full hour, at 350 degrees.

HOW is this possible?? 'Dried out' during cooking, it most certainly was NOT...the liquid level never dropped to expose even a little bit of the chicken, and the sauces were not excessively thick; rather, they were very liquid (say, the consistency of Russian salad dressing, which, in fact, is a major ingredient of one of the dishes in question).

We simply do not understand how a food cooked in that much liquid can end up dry. This is the oxymoron of cooking!

Thanks for any pointers, or information you can provide.
...Liz

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  1. It is my understanding that boneless, skinless chicken breasts should be cooked quickly--rather as if they are fish. You sauce them right before serving. Although I have seen recipes which called for them to be poached, I'm not sure why you would put them in a crock pot, which is best used for tougher cuts of meat. If sauteed, they should be in the skillet quickly, only minutes for each side.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sueatmo

      IC--thanks for your reply. I'll try that ... (the crock pot device was used so dinner would be all ready to eat when the tired shoppers (us) got home!) ;-)

      Liz

    2. Boneless skinless chicken breasts can become dry if cooked too long - despite being submerged in liquid. This cut of chicken has no fat so there is nothing to moisten the meat while cooking. When I make a long simmering dish I either add the chicken at the end and cook until just finished or remove the chicken after it is cooked though and replace it later.

      6 Replies
      1. re: amethiste

        ok...that is really wierd, because you'd think the sauce would be the 'moisture' for the meat. We tend to like flavors 'cooked into' things, so every bite all the way through has the flavor, and not just the outside, as when saucing just prior to serving.

        Thanks for your insight.... I'll tray that next time, though...
        ...Liz

        1. re: TinLizzie

          You may want to think marinade versus cooked in flavor. Chicken breast should be done in 10 minutes. Maybe try the night before to marinate. Then just quickly pan cook or broil. I did a breast last night in chunks, marinated in a little soy, hot sauce and a bare dribble of sesame oil. It was chunked up before being in the zip lock bag with the flavors. I kind of rub it around every ten minutes. Dump onto a crinkled piece of foil (so it is not sitting in its juices) and broiled til just done, let sit- over a salad- really nice. Way under 30 minute meal.

          1. re: torty

            Ohh.. that sounds good! Do you think I could freeze in the marinade? I have one of those vacuum sealers, in which I re-package all my meats when I get home from the store...in meal-sized portions. I'm thinking...apply some marinade (not enough to ooze out during the vacuum process), and freeze...when thawed and cooked, maybe the pressure from teh vacuum-sealing may have forced the flavors deep into the chicken????
            (wishful thinking, on my part, maybe??)

            ...Liz

            1. re: TinLizzie

              No, that's good thinking!

              1. re: TinLizzie

                You could also use a flavor injector, which is essentially a syringe that you use to inject the marinade into the meat. Standard marinades don't work well for chicken breasts in my experience, because the meat is so dense that it's nearly impossible for the marinade to soak in.

            2. re: TinLizzie

              Even a high fat meat like brisket can become dried out if cooked too long submerged in liquid. There is no connective tissue or fat in BSCB to keep the meat juicy. When cooked in liquid chicken breast should be cooked on a low simmer to poach the breasts. Poached chicken breast can be very soft and moist if not left too long and over cooked.

              My personal favorite way to prepare BSCB is to pan roast in a cast iron pan in olive oil to develop a nice brown crust. Flip and toss in a 375* oven to finish cooking. Pulled before they are completely done and rested for 5 min or so. I like mine just cooked or just shy of faint pink center. This is were you still see moisture when you slice. Not well done. They then can be served with what ever sauce you desire.

              I'm just not a big fan of BSCB cooked in liquid. Better to use thighs in that type of preparation

          2. Hi TinLizzie:

            Here's a method I've used to good result. It's simple, but returns juicy chicken that's good to eat as-is, or sliced into other dishes (salad, etc).

            .....................
            What you need:
            -two chx breast halves
            -a box (or a few cans) of low-sodium, reduced fat chicken broth

            ...And for the marinade:
            juice of two lemons
            two or three chopped garlic cloves
            a cup or so of olive oil
            salt and pepper to taste
            a mass of fresh thyme stems (or another favored herb), rubbed in between the hands vigorously so as to release their flavor

            put all marinade ingredients into a large bowl and whisk/stir together
            to slightly emulsify the acid and oil.

            poke the top of the chicken breasts all over with a fork, making lots
            of holes so that the marinade penitrates. put the breasts into the
            marinade, turn a few times, and leave them top-side-down. put the
            bowl of marinade and chicken into the fridge for a few hours (or at least 30 mins).

            In deep pan, heat a bare film of olive oil until just before it
            smokes. Take the chx from the marinade and put the breasts in the pan
            bottom-side-down for at least two or three minutes, until they begin
            to release easily from the pan on their own (keep the heat on high).
            Once they do this, turn them over and repeat the process on the other
            side. Now that both sides are lightly browned, flip the breast back
            to being top-side-up, and add chicken broth to the pan until it
            reaches half-way up the height of the breast. Reduce heat to
            low/medium-low, cover the pan, and simmmer for approx 10 minutes.
            After 10 min, check to see if you need to add more broth (probably),
            and do so if necessary. If you add more broth, hike the temp up to
            high for a minute or so until the liquid again boils, then return it
            to med-low, cover the pan, and check the pan again in about 5-7
            minutes. The chicken should be done at this point (reading about 160
            degrees on a meat thermometer). Remove the chx from the pan, place on
            a plate, and let sit for 15 minutes before slicing.

            You can do all this with water instead of chicken broth, but the broth
            adds a very nice extra-chickeny flavor to the whole enterprise.

            The end result is very moist, and not at all super garlicky, lemony,
            or thyme-y, just sort of nicely flavored.

            1 Reply
            1. re: litchick

              sounds delish. thanks much. (we're garlic hounds, so we'd probably up the garlic ration.. ;-)

              Liz

            2. I’ve had really good results with chicken and pork by brining them for a couple of hours prior to cooking. The brining somehow changes the molecular structure of the proteins or something like that. If you’re interested I’m sure there are many explanations on the internet. Suffice to say it makes the meat much juicier. The marinades probably do the same thing (soy is pretty salty). I typically use one of the big zip lock bags and fill it with 6 cups of water and then add a quarter of a cup of table salt, put the chicken in, mix it up and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours before cooking. With pork chops I’ll sometimes add a quarter of a cup of sugar for added flavor. You could probably still overcook it, but if you don’t, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more moisture the meat retains.

              1 Reply
              1. re: TomDel

                Tin Lizzie, I'm fairly certain that in Molly Steven's All About Braising she explains that overcooking a protein, even in liquid, will result in very dry meat. Granted, with the larger and tougher cuts that one typically tends to plop in a crockpot you probably have more leeway, but I would imagine that with a chicken breast you get to dry and yucky a lot faster.

                Seems crazy, sure, but apparently it's food science at work.

              2. I love my turkey syringe! If I'm in a hurry I thaw out some homemade chicken stock in the nuke and shoot up my (chicken) breasts and let them sit for 10 minutes. From there I can proceed to broil, grill, sautee, whatever. Injected flavor and moisture in no time!

                1. it doesnt matter if the chicken si liquid.. heating drives moisture out. doesnt matter of its a dry or wet heat. contrary to common sense delicate items fare better at high heat for less time rather than gentle heat for a long time. especially something as intrinsically dry as a chicken breast

                  1. Lizzie, if you buy regular chicken breasts and pull off the skins, you'll have a slightly fresher, moister meal cooked on the bone, and less expensive. Just one more factor you can adjust.

                    1. Both methods you describe, will get the described results, unfortunately. and jfood thinks you are being kind on the description of 1 hour at 350, must have been really horrible.

                      Boneless chicken breast and fish filets are the same thing to cook on high heat, there is a very fine line between great/juicy and blah/dry. If you have access to a grill that is the easiest to do.

                      But the trick is one word, "pounded". Jfood NEVER cooks boneless breasts without pounded, full stop. Take the boneless breast and pound to a consistent thickness, around 3/8". Then marinate in whatever you want, throw on a hot grill for abut 3 minutes (yes 3 minutes per side) and remove.

                      Inside is no different, but substitute a pan for the grill and increase the time to maybe 4-5 minutes per side. Do not overcook boneless-skinless breast. plus you have some other add-ins you cannot outside. mushrooms, onions, brussel sprouts, peppers, etc.

                      1. Yep, as others have said, you're overcooking it. You're basically stewing or braising it by cooking in that much liquid. That method is ideal for tough meats with lots of connective tissue. The fish comparison is good, but chicken needs to cook a little longer. Try looking for Poached Chicken Breast recipes, there are tons of them online. You'll find that the cooking time is about 30 minutes.

                        1. I poach chicken breasts--about 20-25 minutes for two huge pieces--and shred the meat for different uses. You can toss the shredded meat into your slow cooked sauce at the last minute.

                          1. What I often do is sautee in a pan in some olive oil, but either butterfly it first or pound/roll it down thinner. Just flip it once after a few minutes around medium-medium high heat.

                            And a marinade overnight will help a lot with flavor as others have pointed out.

                            1. One last point. An instant read meat thermometer is invaluable for cooking boneless chicken breasts if you really want them to not be dry. The window between cooked and inedible is fairly short here -- the thermometer allows you to actually measure it and pull them out when just done.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: JonParker

                                do yourself a favor...pull them put 3 or 5 degrees short of done... you'll thank me later

                              2. You are trying to braise a piece of meat that has very little fat and very little connective tissue and collagen to break down. That is why stew meat, (like chuck), or brisket, or pork shoulder can cook for a long time, and come out great, but lean cuts become hockey pucks. No fat, cook quick.

                                1. My new favorite way to cook this cut is "en papillote" (which is really in foil, in my house). Super easy, super fast, moist, flavorful and really delicious. There are a bunch of recipes out there - but basically you lay the chicken on top of some veg, put some aromatics on top (herbs), top with a splash of wine, stock, lemon juice and cook. I forgot the temp - look it up! - but I think it's 425 for 20 min.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: doc_k55

                                    i use paper bags for this