When we started UE, one of our missions was to test our how-tos (or ones we found around the web) and publish follow-ups from the UE perspective. Today we are not going to test one of our own articles but a recipe we found on one of the websites we follow, The Kitchn.
A little background on my experience with chicken: My mother is still so frightened of “pink” (undercooked) chicken that she dices her chicken breasts up into quarter-inch squares that she then cooks to death. (Mom, I love you.) I fondly called this “cubed chicken” and mocked it all the way up until college when I realized—having only learned the one way—that I too would cook my chicken like this. (Mom, I still love you.) This inexperience, and my already lazy cooking habits, led me to eventually quit cooking the bird—or any meat really—altogether. I have since faced my fears of meat but not my cutting habits, only graduating to slightly larger “chunks.”
But today is the end of all that because today I learn how to cook chicken breasts without cutting them at all.
I started by collecting the following:
1 to 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts. I was cooking for four (no pressure) so I used two boneless skinless chicken breasts. These breasts were about an inch and a half thick and frozen.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper. If you don’t have “freshly ground” black pepper lying around, pre-ground pepper should be fine. I, for one, used to hand mash peppercorns between two paper towels with the butt of a knife because I was too lazy to buy ground pepper or a pepper grinder (don’t ask me why I had whole peppercorns) …but I don’t think many people will have this problem. (Just in case: tips for finding a the right pepper mill and the different kinds of peppercorns.)
1/4 cup flour. Check.
1 teaspoon freshly chopped herbs (optional). Meh. It said optional and I was too lazy to go to the store. I considered some dry herbs from my cupboard, like an “Italian Spice Medley,” but decided to just skip it altogether.
Olive oil. I recently learned to cook with oil, instead of water, and it changed my life. (A great breakdown of the different types of kitchen oils.)
1/2 tablespoon butter. I’ve been convinced in the past year that butter really is that much better than margarine. (If you don’t trust me, at least read what best-selling author Michael Pollan has to say about it.)
Next step, proper kitchen utensils:
10-inch sauté pan with lid. In this case, the lid is essential. As for the 10-inches, just make sure your chicken fits comfortably in the pan. If you don’t have a sauté pan, these tips might help you find the perfect one. Considering that most of my cookware came from Ikea, I may not be the best source for recommendations, but Amazon, Marshall’s, Costco, or thrift stores, can all be excellent sources for quality pots and pans (and other kitchen items).
Clearly a pan is not the only thing you are going to need. So I’m going to add:
Sharp knife capable of cutting chicken. I reiterate the above locations for those in need of a knife set.
Spatula.Having burned myself on many a metal spoon, I cannot recommend a good wooden spoon / spatula enough—they don’t transfer heat!
Cutting Board. Your choice between wooden or plastic. If you’re really lazy, you can just use a plate. If you can’t stick your board in the dishwasher, make sure you follow these steps to keep it clean.
Three Medium-Sized Plates. I really can’t justify putting in a link here, I hope you own plates.
Defrosting frozen chicken: An intelligent, pre-planning person might have remembered to set their frozen chicken breasts out in the morning to ensure that they were properly defrosted by the evening. I, however, was not that person. So, my chicken, having been set out a mere three hours before, was still half frozen by the time I went to cook it. I tried to rectify this by massaging it under hot water from the faucet. (Apparently, according to the USDA, both of these methods are unsafe and one should only defrost their chicken in the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave. Oops. Still alive.) I moved on to the microwave. I basically just started hitting buttons (like “Defrost” and “Chicken” and “Yes”) until it started working. But, if your microwave doesn’t have a defrost setting, two minute increments on 50% power would probably be an okay choice—then again, remember how many times I’ve cooked chicken in my life and take my advice at your own risk.
Start with your chicken on your cutting board…
Pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness with the handle or flat of a knife. Okay, I forgot to do this but, to ensure even cooking, this would probably be a good thing to do. If there is any excess fat (the white stuff) on your chicken breasts, feel free to trim it off.
Lightly salt and pepper the chicken breasts.Don’t be like me and touch your salt and pepper shakers with your raw chicken covered hands—attempting to wash them is not as fun as it sounds.
Mix about a half teaspoon of salt in with the flour along with a little pepper. Chop the herbs finely, if using, and mix in as well. Mix this flour mixture on one of your three plates. The other two are for your chicken—one for raw, one for cooked. I didn’t measure but be careful not to pour too much flour, anything you don’t use will be thrown out. Having just salted and peppered my chicken, I didn’t bother to mix in any salt and pepper (and my chicken still passed a taste test) but to each their own. As I stated above, I skipped the herbs.
Quickly dredge the chicken breasts in the flour, so that they are just lightly dusted with flour. I don’t know why this has to be done “quickly.” I took my time. Take your breasts and dunk each side in the flour. I scooped even more flour on top and gave it a good pat to make sure they were really covered.
Heat the sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it is quite hot, add the olive oil and butter. Let them melt, and swirl the pan.
Turn the heat to medium. Add the chicken breasts. Cook for just about 1 minute to help them get a little golden on one side (you are not actually searing or browning them). Then flip each chicken breast over. “Turn the heat to medium.” Oops. So, being unable to read, I kept my heat on high and was assaulted by crackling oil. But my chicken still turned out fine. (I can’t say the same for my blackened pan.) Being paranoid of salmonella, I didn’t follow the one minute rule. Instead, I waited until each side was golden brown (more golden than brown).
Turn the heat to low. Put the lid on the pan. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and walk away. Do not lift the lid. Do not peek. My feelings on this: “Whaaaa? No peeking??? Like none—zero? But, what if I want to make sure it’s working? Ugh.”
After 10 minutes have elapsed, turn off the heat. Reset the timer for 10 minutes and leave the chicken breasts in the pan. Again, do not lift the lid. Do not peek. “STILL!? Sigh, fine.” When it comes to cooking, trust is not something I do well.
After the 10 minutes are up, take the lid off, and tada! Soft, tender, juicy chicken breasts that aren’t dried out in the least. Doublecheck them to make sure there is no pink in the middle. Slice and eat. “OMFG IT ACTUALLY WORKED!” Tender, soft, juicy, NOT PINK, tasty chicken breasts. I sliced each breast in half and served.
Pro Cleaning Tip (From someone more Pro than me):
If you’re like me and burned the shit out of your pan, try out the following technique I recently learned from a friend:
- Make sure you drain any excess oil and then put the pan back on the burner, on high heat, and wait a minute until it gets hot (or just do this right after you are done cooking).
- Put the pot under running water, angling the pot AWAY FROM YOU, and scrub with a long-handed scrubby brush (not a sponge). Don’t be alarmed if the oils in the pan crackle and steam when they hit the water.
- Scrub, scrub, scrub.
- All clean!
Photo by Andy Sutterfield