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Saute Chicken Breast Method?

I have been doing a lot of chicken recieps lately where you saute the chicken breast in the pan then remove and build a reduction sauce. But I am having problems. I am still very new to cooking only about a year or so, please forgive.

If I do something like Chicken Picatta, I pound it thin before cooking, brown and retrn it to the pan for a minute or two after I build the sauce and it comes out great. But if I try do something like a Chicken Marsala with the whole breast it alwasy seems to come out dry or without flavor from the sauce even if the sauce taste great.

I have seen some chefs on TV saute in a pan and then finish in the oven. Is this the secret to to moistness and flavor? Dose covering the saute pan on the stove and simmer do the same thing?

My usual MO is like this:

Saute 4 min each side till golden brown, remove, build sauce, reduce, return chicken, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove chicken, reduce sauce and serve.

I dont want to pound every pice of chicken I eat, any ideas?

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  1. Dry means you're overcooking it. As you're waiting for the center to cook, the outside is drying out.

    Things you can try: bringing meat to room temp; pounding or slicing into thinner pieces; covering the pan, which increases the rate of heat transfer AND helps cook your meat more evenly.

    Early salting will also help with dryness and flavor.

    Certainly, the 10 minutes of simmering in a covered pan seems a tad too long for me...

    1. When I pound each chicken breast, I would brown them for 2 minutes on each side only.
      And I would turn the heat on low when simmering for about 5-7 minutes in the sauce.

      I have been on a grilled lemon chicken kick and I pound the chicken (after I marinate it) breast and grill on medium-high for 3 minutes on each side. At that point they are completely cooked, so I agree, your chicken is overcooked.

      1. Your basic technique looks OK, except that you may be sauteeing too long. Try searing in a hotter pan for a shorter time. Make sure the chicken breast is dry on both sides, then heat up an iron pan over high heat. Give the chicken a light coat of vegetable oil then sear for 1.5 minutes per side. The breast has an outer side, which touches the skin, and an inner side which touches the bone; you'll get a better crust on both sides if you sear the outer side first. After you build your sauce, simmer the chicken for maybe only 5 minutes.

        As Jaykayen says salting and seasoning ahead of time works wonders.

        1 Reply
        1. re: RealMenJulienne

          Another option is to cook at a lower heat for longer - this should result in a more tender chicken breast than the high heat method.

          Also, i wouldn't make chix marsala with whole breast - it should be pounded out.

          If you don't want to pound chicken, and are making the dish with whole breast, i would definitely go for an oven roast. Cooking a whole breast through on a skillet usually doesn't work well.

        2. I would only do the salting suggestions if you are willing/able to do it the "Zuni Cafe way" and do it 2-3 days ahead of time. (Or, at the VERY least 1 day)
          You could also try brining, which as Cooks Illustrated says, will give you a "bigger window of juicyness".

          That said, when I make chicken marsala I usually haven't planned ahead enough to do either of the above and this version has never failed me -


          1. Wow, great suggestion guys, thanks, I think I have a little more experimenting to do. I am guessing my pan is not hot enough like someone suggested and over cookin with the top on as well.

            1. It would seem from your technique and description of the chicken becoming dry that you're cooking it too long. Chicken breast is easily cooked and doesn't require a lot of time. Looking at your technique the final part of 10 minutes simmering is definitely too long.

              What I would do with chicken breast is first brown it 4 minutes each side, then add garlic/herbs and the moisture (be it wine, stock or water), simmer for a few minutes with the lid mostly on top, remove the chicken and reduce if necessary.

              If I were you though, I would experiment with other parts of the chicken. They are much more flavourful and will give you a better sauce. That way you can also pan-roast your chicken to absolute perfection: moist and flavourful.

              1. I salt early, and let sit in the fridge uncovered for a day, to plump up the protein molecules a bit so they retain more water.

                Another key is steady heat, and if by saute you mean you are moving it around, you won't acheive a good sear on it. You need to leave it alone the entire time. I do mine at medium high for 6 mins per side. Sometimes in the broiler, same time. Always juicy. Mainly because I dry brine first, I believe.

                1. I am guessing that what you are buying is boneless chicken breast halves and there is some confusion in the responses here as regards the use of the term "whole breast".
                  The whole breast is on the bone and could only be browned on the skin side since only the tips of the bones contact the pan when a whole breast is meat-side up. Like the more familiar roasted whole turkey breast, whole chicken breasts are usually roasted, sometimes grilled.

                  Breast halves can be either on the bone or boneless, skin off or on. They can be sauteed, although the bone side does not rest entirely flat on the pan. To avoid rubbery skin, the skin side of a chicken breast half needs more time on the heat, and/or higher temp. If I were sauteeing bone-in chicken breast halves, I'd start them skin down on med-high in a thoroughly preheated heavy pan. Don't move them. When the skin has browned, they will release easily. Lower the heat to medium before turning them bone-side down. Most professional cooks prefer meats cooked on the bone, finding it gives the dish more flavor and juiciness.

                  To address the pounding issue - you can always slice the raw boneless breasts into evenly thick lengthwise or crosswise slices and sautee them that way.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: greygarious

                    When I saute chicken pieces, I do them in a few tablespoons of oil and while one side is browing, I keep spooning hot oil over the chicken and do the same while browning the other side. This has always given me crispy skin and moist chicken.

                    ETA: After the chicken is mostly done, I remove the pieces, build the sauce and return for just a few minutes, either on the stovetop or in the oven.