You don’t have to lie to us: We know that chicken breasts are in your regular cooking rotation.
And why shouldn’t they be? They’re cheap, cook quickly, and are about as soothingly reliable as the pair of sweatpants you change into every night the second you get home from work. But things aren’t all blissful in the land of fast-easy-poultry. You could be buying the wrong kind, serving them under-seasoned or, worst of all, cooking the hell out of them until they’re dry and miserable.
Refresh your chicken know-how by reading these common mistakes and pretty soon you’ll be the breast around. Err… well, you know.
1. Skip the boneless and skinless meat.
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a bazillion times: Don’t go boneless or skinless. “You don’t have to eat the skin,” says Rick Martinez, Bon Appétit’s associate food editor (although we recommend you do). If you’re not a fan, just peel it off and give it to us after the chicken has cooked.
Both the bone and the skin help keep the meat moist as it cooks, and with so little fat to begin with, the breast needs all the help it can get. In other words: Go boneless and skinless, and you’re basically asking for a dry, stringy piece of meat.
2. Don't forget the marinade (or brine or rub)
Sure, they cook up quickly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. Chicken breasts benefit greatly from being marinated or treated with a dry or wet brine, or rub. Pile on the flavor with aromatics like ginger and chiles, brown sugar (to help the meat caramelize when cooked), vinegar (to help tenderize), and yes, salt. If you’ve ever been told to skip the salt in a marinade, forget that now: “The theory that a salted marinade pulls out moisture from chicken is wrong,” assures Martinez. In fact, if you skip the salt you’ll be left with a bird that lacks a powerful punch of flavor.
3. Don't think about poaching.
Does anyone actually poach chicken anymore? Martinez hopes not. But if you are, definitely cut that out in favor of roasting. Roasting any ingredient intensifies and concentrates the flavor. (Think about how cauliflower tastes much better after being cooked the oven). 375˚ is the name of the game for chicken breasts, according to Martinez. If you really want to earn brownie points, sear it in a skillet, skin side-down before transferring it to the preheated oven. That will help the skin crisp up and take on an attractive golden-brown color.
In the mood for something faster? This is the only instance in which we give boneless breasts a pass. Pound them out very thinly and fry in a screaming hot skillet with a glug of neutral oil. (“Just about one to two minutes per side ought to do it,” says Martinez).
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