Chicken Breast is the ultimate food for a fitness enthusiast. It is low in calories and high in protein content. But none of that matters, if you can't cook it right and it comes out tasting like a leather shoe. After enjoying a few different shoes, I gave up and embraced the lovely boneless chicken thighs. It's hard to mess them up, although I won't put anything beyond yours truly. No matter how delicious chicken thighs came out, I always got a lump in my throat thinking about my failures with the Chicken Breast. All this changed recently, thanks to my Friend - Shikha Sharma who is an expert chef from the French Culinary Institute. I'm glad to report that I have now perfected the technique. Follow the ten steps below, and prepare to enjoy the Chicken Breast Nirvana. If I can do it, so can you.
Step One: Defrost Chicken
Make sure that the entire chicken breast is at a uniform room temperature, so that the meat cooks evenly both inside and out. Rookie Mistake - I used to pull the chicken straight out of the refrigerator, and throw it in the oven. Nope - that won't work.
Step Two: Even out the chicken piece
A big part of the challenge in cooking chicken breast is that it is quite sensitive to heat. Add to that the fact that the chicken breast varies in its thickness. Fortunately, we can do something about the thickness, and at-least take one variable out of the picture. Cover the chicken breast in a plastic wrap, and use the meat pounder to even out the thickness. I bought the one shown in the picture for less than five dollars. You can also use any heavy utensil or pan instead of the meat pounder. All that matters is that you even out the thickness, as much as possible.
Step Three: Trim, Wash, and Dry
Trim and cut the piece if needed. Wash and pat dry with a paper towel. If you don't pat the meat dry, the marinade (usually oil based) will be unable to penetrate the meat and will not be effective.
Step Four: Marinade
Now this is the part where you give the chicken breast a personality with your favorite custom marinade. Did I already mention how important it is to pat the meat dry, prior to applying the marinade?
Marinade is not essential for making a juicy chicken breast. You could simply rub salt and pepper on the chicken, and that will work. However, a good marinade goes a long way in enhancing the flavor. A marinade usually involves three elements - oil, acid, and herbs. In this recipe, for every chicken breast piece (roughly 1/2 lbs), I used
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- two table spoons vinegar
- two teaspoons crushed thyme, oregano, rosemary
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder or paste
- 1 teaspoon onion powder or paste
- red pepper, black pepper, salt to tast
If you don't have all the herbs listed above, its okay. You will be surprised how good the chicken breast can turn out with just oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
Step Five: Heat the Pan
Pour the oil in the pan and set it to medium-high heat. You can use any oil as long as it can withstand high heat. I used Canola oil. Wait for the oil to get hot. You can tell that the oil is hot enough when the oil wrinkles start emerging as shown in the picture. Alternatively, you can tease the pan with the tip of the chicken breast. If it makes a sizzling sound, then you are ready to go.
Step Six: Place the chicken breast in the hot pan
I prefer to keep the presentation side of the chicken down first. For a 1/2 lb chicken breast, it takes 3-4 minutes to cook each side. After 3 minutes, lift the chicken piece, and check the color. If the color looks sufficiently brown, then proceed to the next step
Step Eight: Prepare the Oven
Pre-heat the oven to 350 deg F. Place the chicken in the oven. It certainly helps if you have a stainless steel pan, because you can then transfer the pan directly from the stove to the oven.
Step Ten (Most Important): Don't overcook it. Check by cutting into smaller strips.
Make sure you don't overcook the chicken. It is better to take it off the oven and err on the side of caution. You can make a cut, and if it is pink in the middle, then you still have the option of putting it back in the oven.
Enjoy the juicy chicken breast, and let me know how it turns out for you.