It shocks me how many people eat boneless, skinless chicken breast on a daily basis. Sure, it’s lean protein. Sure, it’s versatile. But the oft overlooked facts are that it’s a) more expensive, and b) less delicious than it’s slightly more “rugged” counterparts. I generally steer clear of chicken breasts entirely, allowing dieters, bodybuilders, and the chronically boring to delight in its…protein goodness…ish. That’s not to say that I don’t like chicken. I do! I love all sorts of chicken dishes, and I have a couple of chickens illegally living in my suburban backyard. I just prefer bones, skin, dark meat, and other flavorful parts of the beast.
For versatility’s sake, it’s good to be able to knock out a flavorful chicken breast quickly. Some recipes just don’t deal very well with being translated to dark meat. In those instances, there are a few basic steps to making a hunk of white meat that you can proudly present to others as “tasty food” rather than “high-protein styrofoam.”
Step 1: Bones! And skin!
Buy chicken breasts that have the bone and skin still intact. They both add flavor and keep the meat juicy when you cook it. You can easily peel the meat off the bone after cooking to dice and use in a recipe, and as the cook you get the bonus of eating the skin, if skin doesn’t gel with your vision of a completed dinner. Crispy chicken skin=winning. So go for a basic “split chicken breast.” It’s almost always cheaper than boneless, skinless, too!
Step 2: Sourcing!
If you can, buy free-range chicken. It’s a much more humane alternative to caged chicken, and it tastes sooooo much better because they’re able to walk around and use those muscles. You can find it on sale and stock up when it’s cheaper.
Step 3: Starting temp!
Let your chicken sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes to come to room temperature. If you’re a healthy individual and not feeding this to the elderly, ill, or infantile, then you’re really not running too much risk of bacterial growth. Plus, free-range chickens have much lower incidence of salmonella and other deadly diseases. Hey! Added bonus! Speaking of temp…this is a good time to preheat your oven to 375 F.
Step 4: Seasoning!
A good chicken breast really only needs a liberal sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper to make it taste great, but this is where you can branch out. Granulated garlic sprinkled in with your salt and pepper is a good start for pretty much any recipe. Experiment! Who knows what you’ll end up finding. And if you’re too chicken to mix your own spices, buy a pre-made poultry seasoning to ADD to your salt and pepper. Oh, and kosher salt? Yes. Its coarser grain and more jagged edges make it stick to protein better and it doesn’t have that funny iodine taste that comes with regular iodized salt (“tastes like burning!”). Plus, bigger grains mean added crunch.
Step 5: Sear!
Get a large, oven-safe,stainless steel skillet* good and hot, then place your seasoned chicken breast skin-side down in the pan. Don’t overcrowd the pan! Remember, that only makes the meat steam and not brown. Steamed meat is for prisoners, and that’s almost always NOT your chosen dinner companion. Leave the chicken skin side down in the pan for a while without touching it or moving it. Lower the heat in the skillet to Medium-high. Leave it for a good 4-5 minutes, letting your nose be your guide. If you smell even a hint of burning, immediately add some liquid to the pan. A quarter cup of white wine, stock, or water works great. But hopefully you’ll avoid burning and just get to the point of golden brown goodness. Don’t flip the meat if it’s sticking to the pan! If your pan is hot enough, and you let the chicken sear long enough, it’ll release on its own with just the help of some tongs. And please, please, for the love of the boobies, don’t use a fork or pierce the chicken in any way to turn it. That’s just asking all the juice inside to leave the party.
*You can’t put nonstick pans in the oven, so you’re using stainless steel, and you aren’t lubricating the pan at all in this case.
Step 6: Flip!
When the chicken is totally golden brown on the skin side, flip it over and place the (seasoned) bone side down in the pan. Do the same thing, getting the bottom golden brown. When the bottom of the pan is coated in tasty brown drippings, pour in a 1/2 cup or so of liquid. White wine, stock, or water again.
Pan roast! Stick the whole pan, chicken, juice, and all into the oven to finish cooking through to the middle. Using an instant read thermometer in the center of the meat, not touching bone, check the temperature after about 10 minutes. You want the meat to hit 160 F in the center before you pull it out to rest. After it hits that point, pull the pan out of the oven, and remove the chicken breasts to a cutting board. Whisk together those pan juices and strain to make a killer drizzle for your chicken.
Step 8: Rest!
Let the chicken sit for 6-7 minutes on the cutting board before serving or cutting. This lets the juices redistribute through the meat, and keeps the chicken moist, as well as allows the chicken to finish reaching a safe temperature.
Seriously, that’s it. Now it’s yours to do with as you please. You can do about 6 of these suckers at a time in a big pan, and cube up the leftovers for use in salads and other dishes all week long. That’s just smart time management.
Behold, you’ve mastered the bosom of a generally not very bright, but always hilarious, feathered beast.