This week we turn our attention to the humble chicken breast, a go-to protein for many home cooks. But it's easy to get into a chicken rut, relying on the same recipe over and over or cooking it in a way that results in something bland and boring.
You deserve a tastier bite, but in a reasonable amount of time.
I asked around the Features department to see if any of my colleagues had go-to recipes for turning this cut of meat into a satisfying but easy weeknight dinner. You can find their ideas, and a couple of my own, here — and most of them come together in less than 30 minutes.
There are also some general know-hows to keep in mind when cooking skinless, boneless chicken breast, to ensure you go into each recipe prepared. Here are my top three tips for getting the most out of your cutlets.
Thaw them properly
First of all, never try to cook a frozen chicken breast. You want room temperature as an ideal starting point. The best way to thaw frozen chicken is to leave it in the refrigerator for long enough to defrost (usually just overnight). But we don't always have that kind of time. A quick way to get chicken breasts to room temperature is to place them in a sealable plastic bag, in a bowl of cold water until thawed (should take no longer than 30 minutes).
There are a couple of ways to go about marinating chicken before you cook it, a process that prevents the meat from drying out when cooked — and also adds flavor. There is the method of dumping a bunch of (usually liquid) ingredients in a container, adding the chicken, then letting that sit overnight in the fridge. There's also the dry-brining technique, like how you would prepare meats for the grill. The most basic version is to salt a chicken breast very well, then let it sit for 30 minutes.
Another even more low-key marinating method is to place chicken in a bowl, then add Greek yogurt or enough buttermilk to cover the chicken. If using the yogurt, rub it all around the chicken so it's fully coated. Let sit for as long as you wish — overnight is best, but even 15 minutes will do.
Make sure they are the same size
Chicken breast isn't very forgiving, given its low fat content. It doesn't take long for one to become overcooked, and this can happen more easily when you're cooking cuts that vary in size all at once. If you're cutting your chicken into tenders or nuggets, take care to cut them into roughly the same size, so that they can cook evenly.
Alternatively, it's important to pound your chicken with a meat mallet or other heavy object to make sure the cuts are of equal thickness. (Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the chicken before pounding.) When pan frying especially, the thickness of a cut is crucial. Since each chicken breast usually varies in thickness anyway, pounding out the thicker end is a good rule of thumb even if you're cooking it by itself.
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