I’ve always been a big fan of chicken breasts, but since giving up red meat (and because I’ve never been a fan of fish), they’ve quickly become the mainstay protein in my diet.
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As stated before, I am a true chicken advocate. I’m sick of seeing it being maligned in the food media – from the Food Network and myriad cooking shows to countless articles across the internet landscape. When I hear people extol the virtues of chicken thighs or declare that chicken breasts are dull or dull, my love for a well-seasoned, well-cooked breast only crystallizes further.
Now I get it – I’ve ordered way too many chicken Caesar salads that were topped with flabby “strips” of chicken, presumably not even real. However, a perfectly cooked piece of chicken is insurmountable: nothing dry, tough or bland here. Chilled, sliced and served with lettuce or fresh, crunchy vegetables? Seared and well-seasoned and served with a rich, gooey pan sauce? Grilled under a hot flame and coated in perfectly browned cheese? I will opt for this any day.
Of course, there are a few steps that should be followed to ensure the most satisfying chicken breast experience:
Buy a high quality option
I tend to choose unbranded organic chicken, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend an inordinate amount of money on said chicken. I like Wegmans, Aldi, Kings, Stop and Shop and a little health oriented store near me called Green Life; each store offers a stellar selection of high-quality chicken breasts.
Buy the right type of chicken breast for your dish
Depending on the final dish, I tend to aim for skinless, boneless chicken breasts. However, when it comes to certain dishes — grilled chicken, fried chicken, an insanely delicious take on panzanella from a now-closed Brooklyn restaurant that I make every summer — I tend to opt for boneless chicken breasts. with skin. And of course, there are times when a good old bone-and-hide option is best.
When it comes to a well-done piece of chicken for snacks or salads, I prefer a standard, unpounded chicken breast. For some dishes, a pounded schnitzel, butterfly breast, or thinly sliced chicken breast may be the answer. It really depends on the recipe and what you envision for the end product.
Find the seasoning that suits you
I’m not a big fan of pickles, but some people swear by pickles. Up to you! Instead, I tend to sear my chicken (and any protein) very aggressively, so I opt for salt and sometimes freshly cracked black pepper. If you’re not as aggressive with your cooking method, seasonings such as paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder are good options. I also tend to choose a neutral oil, like peanut, grapeseed, canola, or vegetable, but if you’re not searing over high heat, a good olive oil is always welcome.
Prepare your cook
Depending on the thickness of your chicken, you may need to finish the piece in the oven to ensure the inside is cooked through and the chicken is not burnt “on the outside”. For some reason I have an affinity for slightly overcooked food so I don’t mind that (actually I like it) but I know most normal humans prefer a piece of chicken not too much cooked.
Just as shown in this piece, cast iron is a great option here, but any heavy-bottomed skillet would be a good choice; try to aim for oven safety in case you decide to end up in the oven.
Fun fact about cleanup: If you have a lot of crispy brown bits on the bottom of your pan after cooking, deglaze with stock, wine or even water, add a few knobs of butter and reduce until they thicken slightly. A cleaned pan and a delicious pan sauce? Win-win!
Follow these rules, and you’re bound to have an incredibly delicious topping for your next salad — or a reliable, ridiculously good, high-protein snack option.
Recipe: No-frills chicken breast
- 1 lb high quality organic chicken breasts
- Neutral oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a heavy-bottomed skillet or cast-iron skillet, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet and heat over medium to medium-high heat until rippling.
- Let the chicken come to room temperature for about 10-15 minutes, season both sides heavily (I mean very heavily – you need more salt than you think, and even more if you don’t season with anything else thing) on both sides. Also, make sure the chicken is well dried before adding it to the pan. This is important for both culinary purposes and for safety purposes. If the chicken is wet, the water and oil may start to burst or splatter. Once thoroughly dried and seasoned, carefully add the chicken to the skillet.
- Cook, without disturbing, for 7 to 10 minutes. Flip and cook for another 7 to 10 minutes.
- It now becomes a “choose your own adventure” type recipe. You can either cover the pan with a lid and cook for another 5 minutes, transfer everything to a preheated oven to finish for 5 minutes, or just continue cooking as is, turning it more often. Each method produces a slightly different product with different tastes, textures and dynamics. Try each of them to help you choose your preferred approach.
- Let the chicken cool for 5 minutes before checking for doneness. If it’s cooked well, feel free to slice, chop, or eat with reckless abandon. Personally, I’m a sucker for chilled chicken breast “chopped up” and tossed with a green salad, lots of freshly cracked black pepper, and an abrasive acid dressing or vinaigrette, with nuts, seeds, cheese, and some sort dried or dehydrated fruit or berry.
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