How to Make Chicken Breast Taste Like It Belongs on Your Plate
Chicken breast is a naturally lean cut of meat, even with its bone and skin. But if made incorrectly, chicken breast will taste as dry as sandpaper. It won’t matter how well you’ve seasoned it, the meat itself will not be juicy and tender. Cooking chicken breast with its bone and skin can be a challenge, however cooking boneless, skinless chicken breast can be a whole other ball game. However, I have tips and techniques that always results in flavorful, tender and juicy cuts of chicken.
Buy an instant read digital thermometer: This should be a staple tool in your kitchen anyway. This prevents you from under or overcooking chicken or any other kind of meat. You can find one of these for $10 or less on Amazon. I believe I got mine around that price. Its one of the best purchases I’ve made to use for my cooking. The minimum safe internal temperature for chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Brine it: I usually do this for several hours or overnight in salt water. Brining tenderizes the meat and prevents the chicken from drying out during the cooking process. It can be tough to achieve a nice, crispy skin after brining. So if you're using chicken breast with the skin on, make sure to pat it dry or dry it in the refrigerator an hour. I use ¼ cup of salt per 1 quart of cold water and place the chicken and brine it in the refrigerator.
Pound them evenly: This is my favorite and quickest technique, especially if I need to make a quick meal such as pan seared or grilled chicken. I can make chicken breast in 10 minutes using this method. Another reason why chicken breast may be tough and dry is because it’s unable to cook evenly. Let’s say you’re pan searing it. It’s well seasoned, you’re using the right amount of oil, but once it’s done cooking, the thinner parts taste like stringy sandpaper and the thicker parts are undercooked or also dry. Your seasoning isn’t the issue, the cut of your chicken breast is. Pounding the chicken with a meat tenderizer mallet is a great way to level the chicken so it cooks evenly and doesn’t overcook. Also, it relieves stress after a long, hard day of work. Season the chicken well on both sides with salt, pepper and whatever else your heart desires. Prices for meat tenderizer mallets range from as low as $9 to as high as $25.(Note: if your chicken is too thick and you don’t have a mallet, use the butterfly technique to split the chicken in half).
Cover and bake it: Covering and baking chicken breast with a liquid such as stock can result in moist chicken as well. This preferable for evenings when I have more time to make dinner. I also like to make these one pan meals with potatoes and veggies and fresh herbs such as rosemary and thyme. The flavors permeate through the chicken very nicely. While writing this, I realized I usually use this method in the fall, winter and early spring. It gets too hot to use the oven in the summer time, so I switch to quick pan sears and grilling during the warmer seasons.
Stuff butter and fresh herbs under the skin: I would do a quick brine with this method, but if you have chicken breast with the skin and bone, that may not be necessary. There’s nothing like roasted chicken that’s had butter, herbs and garlic cooking under the skin. The butter melts down into the meat and makes the chicken juicy. If you brush butter on the top, you’ll end up with a crispy, browned skin. I usually use this method when I'm roasting chicken in the oven.
It’s all about the seasoning, herbs and marinades: Give your chicken life! Give it some flavor. Chicken can be extremely bland if you don’t season it. It loves salt and pepper, so use those generously. But why stop there? Add a couple of lemon slices and place them on top of your chicken while they cook. I’ve mentioned rosemary and thyme already. Those fresh herbs work best with chicken, in my opinion. Brush it with a teriyaki marinade as it's cooking or dress it with a nice balsamic glaze. You can also squeeze some fresh lime juice on top for freshness and top it with fresh cilantro. From everything such as sandwiches to salads, chicken is so versatile when it comes to adding flavors that you could have chicken breast every day of the week and never have the same meal twice.
If you need to reheat chicken the next day, adding a couple of tablespoons of water or stock in your container before placing it in the microwave can prevent your chicken from drying out. If you have skin that you want to remain crispy, place it under the broiler on low until it crisps again.
Chicken breasts are relatively inexpensive, about 3.25/lb average nowadays. They get a good rap because they’re better for you than their fattier counterparts, but they’re known to be bland and dry. They don’t have to be. A few simple techniques and a little prep time can make all the difference between tough, dry and stringy chicken and juicy and tender cuts of meat.