The more going on in our lives, the less going on in the kitchen. That's usually how it goes at my house. And if back-to-school time translates to a more hectic schedule for you and yours, cooking needs to be quick, easy and worth the effort.
There are some standbys we can turn to at times like these: spaghetti nights, make-your-own tacos, meals that can please a wide range of palates without requiring too much from the one putting it all together.
Chicken is a good backbone for those types of dinner, the poultry easily able to work in everything from highbrow knife-and-fork affairs to barbecue sauce-dunking nights.
Skinless, boneless chicken breast tends to be the easiest cut to prepare, if not always the most alluring. The breast's relatively low fat content means it can go from perfectly moist to bone dry in as long as it takes to set the table. With the help of some of my colleagues, I scrounged up 10 chicken breast recipes worth your precious weekday dinner hours.
There are a couple of foolproof ways to wrangle chicken breast: en papillote, a fancy French term that means you cook it in a parchment paper packet that traps in moisture and flavor; or as a paillard, another French technique that refers to pounding the breast very thin then usually pan-frying it.
I'm also a big fan of broiling, as with the seemingly magical Broiled Chicken Tenders With Pineapple Relish recipe below. You can also simply marinate chicken breasts that have been cut into 2 or 3 tender-like pieces in a bowl of Greek yogurt, salt and pepper, then place them on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and more seasonings of your choice and broil for about 10 minutes.
And when in doubt, chunk the chicken up into nugget-sized pieces and put them to work in a stir-fry like our Chicken and Yellow Rice recipe — or dredge them in egg and flour and pan-fry or bake them to re-create crave-worthy drive-through food.
The key with all of these methods is that they require very minimal work on your end and cook in less than 30 minutes — sometimes in less than 15.
Broiled Chicken Tenders With Pineapple Relish
1 medium shallot, finely grated
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-natural peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
1 garlic clove, finely grated
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into ½-inch strips
1 cup minced fresh pineapple
1 cucumber, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or mint
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Combine first six ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons oil and chicken. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes.
Stir pineapple, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro and lime juice in a small bowl to blend; season relish to taste with salt and more lime juice, if desired. Set aside.
Preheat broiler and arrange oven rack 4 inches from heat. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and brush with 1 tablespoon oil. Remove chicken from marinade and arrange in a single layer, spacing apart, on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt. Broil until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a platter and serve with relish.
Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit
Paprika Fried Chicken
I don't do it too often, but when I commit to really frying up some chicken breast, I am never not sorry I did. This version isn't overly heavy on the breading, and thus feels wholesome enough for an every-now-and-then indulgence. The buttermilk marinade is crucial, even if you don't have time to let the chicken soak overnight. And be sure to salt the chicken generously right after it comes out of the oil; it makes a world of difference.
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder, or 1 smashed garlic clove
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for the marinade
Freshly cracked black pepper
4 (5-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded to ⅓-inch thickness
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Place buttermilk, hot sauce, garlic and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Add chicken breasts and turn to coat. Let sit for at least 20 minutes, or overnight if you have the time.
Whisk flour and next 4 ingredients in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold 1 chicken breast at a time. Remove 1 chicken breast from buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Dredge in flour mixture, turning to coat evenly. Carefully place on prepared rack. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.
Pour oil into a large heavy skillet, so there is about 1 inch in the skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until hot. Carefully add chicken to oil. Fry, turning once, until chicken is golden brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer chicken to a wire rack set over a baking sheet (to catch oil) or a paper towel-lined plate. Season with salt and serve immediately.
Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit
Thai Chicken Salad
Really have no time to cook? Prep your chicken breast on a weekend. Put a couple of breasts in a slow cooker and cook on low for a couple of hours until cooked through. Remove from cooker, shred with a fork and reserve for this easy salad. (Alternatively, you can boil chicken in a large pot filled halfway with water, about 20 minutes for 4 breasts.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
4 cups shredded cabbage
2 medium carrots, julienned
½ cup roughly chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro, for garnish
Crushed peanuts, for garnish (optional)
Add garlic, sugar, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, vegetable oil, sriracha sauce and onion to a bowl. Mix until sugar dissolves. Add shredded chicken, shredded cabbage, carrots and fresh mint.
Season with freshly ground black pepper, mix and garnish with cilantro and peanuts if using.
Source: Adapted from Saveur
Chicken and Yellow Rice
This recipe is a family favorite and a working mom's friend. It only takes about 10 minutes of prep time involving the chicken, then you put the lid on the pot and let rice cook around the rest of the ingredients. So in actual start to finish time it's 40 minutes, but your part is over after 10. I like to top mine with a sprinkle of Cajun salt to add a little spice. — Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
1 pound sausage, cut into half moons (such as andouille, kielbasa or, my favorite, Gaspar's Linguica sausage)
1 onion, cut into chunks
1 red pepper, cut into bite-sized strips
10 ounces yellow rice mix, like Zatarain's
1 cup frozen peas
Using a large pot with a lid or a Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat, then add chicken and sausage and cook until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the onions and red pepper and saute for a minute or so.
Add the yellow rice mix and as much water as the mix calls for (usually 20 ounces) and stir.
Turn up the heat to high. Once the water boils, put the lid on and turn the heat down to low and cook according to the rice package directions, about 20 to 25 minutes.
When the rice is done, stir in the frozen peas and serve.
Nuggets and pinwheels
Kids love chicken nuggets. It's a self-evident truth. So get them in on the action: bowl of flour seasoned with salt and pepper, bowl of beaten egg, bowl of panko. Have the kid flop a slightly pounded chicken breast in the first bowl, then the second, then the third, then in a pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Five minutes on one side over medium heat, 4 minutes on the other side. Kids will even tolerate a squeeze of lemon. For the grownups, set it down on something like a bouquet of lightly dressed arugula, fresh herbs and toasted slivered almonds.
There are so many things you can do with chicken as roulades or pinwheels: To make, thinly pound chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap. (Do it with the bottom of a small saute pan; it helps work out frustration.) Then smear on the top one of the following:
• Pesto mixed with a little ricotta cheese
• Pureed roasted red pepper and some ricotta and Parmesan
• Goat cheese and very thinly longwise-sliced zucchini
• Sauteed garlic and chopped button mushroom with a splash of sherry
When you've got your topping on there, roll the chicken breasts up, pin them with a toothpick and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 12 minutes whenever you're ready. You can serve them whole or sliced into 1-inch pinwheels.
En papillote is a great way to do something easy but fancy looking with chicken breasts. Pound breasts until even thickness, season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper, then place off-center on a square of parchment paper. Now pick a flavor direction: olives, tomatoes, capers and basil; slivered ginger, soy and sliced shiitakes; dill, red onion slices and paper-thin wheels of lemon. Fold over the paper and twist the edges to make a sealed package. Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes.
— Laura Reiley, Times food critic
The first time I ever felt like I could really cook was when I made my mom's Chicken Parmesan. Growing up, there were few meals Mom served that made me excited to sit down to a family dinner. Understandably, she took shortcuts so she could get food on our plates faster. But as I master cooking in my tiny kitchen, I've changed a few things in her original recipe. I prefer panko crumbs to Italian bread crumbs. More crunch, and I can adjust the seasoning. I add fresh basil from my windowsill plant, instead of the dried stuff. I buy the fancier cheese, the kind you have to grate, at the grocery store. And I'm now the proud owner of a cast iron skillet. But perhaps the biggest adjustment is the sauce. Instead of using the jarred kind, I always have homemade marinara sauce in my freezer. However, like Mom did, I serve it with penne pasta (my family called them pencil points) and a salad. Chicky Chicky Parm Parm tastes like home. — Brittany Volk, Times staff writer
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
2 cups panko bread crumbs
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ½ pounds)
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cups shredded mozzarella
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a breading station with three large bowls: one bowl with flour, another with the egg-water mixture and the third bowl with the bread crumbs, garlic powder and Parmesan mixed with a fork. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then coat each piece of chicken in flour and shake off excess. Dip chicken into egg-water mixture and then into bread crumb mixture, then set on a clean plate. Repeat steps for remaining chicken.
In a deep cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat, add 1 inch vegetable oil. When pan is hot but not smoking, add chicken. Cook until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes, then transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
Meanwhile, in a large, oven-proof skillet set over medium heat, warm marinara sauce. Turn off heat and place cooked chicken in sauce. Top with mozzarella and bake until cheese has melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Top with basil and serve immediately.
Source: Adapted from delish.com
Hibachi Chicken and Fried Rice
This Japanese steakhouse-inspired recipe is simpler than you might expect, which might be why the chefs at such steakhouses always try to distract you with fire and food flipping theatrics. A little oil, a little soy sauce, a lot of heat. Done. Then you can fry rice (and vegetables like carrots and broccoli) in the same pan to pick up all that flavor. — Caitlin E. O'Conner, Times staff writer
For the chicken:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 to 1 ½ pounds chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
For the fried rice:
½ cup chopped white onion
2 large eggs
4 cups cooked rice (cool to the touch; make this first so it has time to cool before you fry it)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons soy sauce
Make the chicken: Heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a large skillet or wok on medium-high heat. Add the chicken, soy sauce, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the skillet. Saute the chicken for 6 to 8 minutes or until no longer pink. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
Do not clean skillet. You will reuse this skillet for the fried rice.
Make the fried rice: Heat the same skillet or wok on medium-high and add a drizzle of extra oil if needed. Add the onion and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Move the onion to the side of the pan. Add the eggs, lightly scrambling in the pan. Once scrambled, add the rice and butter. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the soy sauce and cook an additional minute.
Serves 4 to 6.
Source: Adapted from food.com
When my husband and I first visited Paris almost 20 years ago, he ordered chicken paillards for lunch one day at a sidewalk cafe. Simple and full of fresh flavors, the dish became one of our favorites. When we returned to Florida, we set about trying to duplicate it in our own kitchen, and this recipe is the result. — Colette Bancroft, Times staff writer
1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast, split
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup flour
Salt and pepper
1 shallot, minced
¼ cup white wine
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers and/or fresh thyme leaves, optional
4 cups fresh baby spinach, arugula or mix
Place each chicken breast between waxed paper and pound to about ¼ inch thick, using mallet or heavy skillet.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Salt and pepper chicken and lightly flour, shaking off excess. When oil shimmers, place one piece of chicken in pan and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Flip and brown other side. Remove to a plate and cook second breast the same way.
Cover chicken or place in low oven to keep warm. Lower heat under skillet to medium and add shallots, stirring for a minute or so to soften. Add wine and stir to deglaze pan. Add lemon juice and optional capers or herbs and cook for a minute or two to reduce slightly.
Divide greens between two plates. Place paillards atop greens, pour sauce over and serve.