Skinless, boneless chicken breast halves are the workhorses in the time-pressed cook's kitchen. They're quick to cook and, thanks to their mild flavor, they mesh well with a limitless variety of seasonings, sauces, and ethnic cooking styles. You'll never lack for an interesting new way to bring them to the table.
Because chicken breasts are susceptible to drying out, they're best cooked quickly using high heat. That means skillet-cooking, stir-frying, roasting, or grilling work well for this cut. Skillet-cooking is particularly satisfying because you can make a sauce in the same pan used to cook the chicken breasts.
First we'll give you the basics: How to cook chicken breasts. Then we'll show you one quick recipe for skillet-cooked chicken with a pan sauce -- a great choice for a busy weeknight. When you have a little more time, check out our recipe for roasted chicken breasts stuffed with smoked mozzarella -- a perfect weekend dinner with friends.
If you simply want to cook chicken breasts for use in another recipe, here's how to boil skinless, boneless chicken breast halves for white meat that can be used in salads, soups, sandwiches, casseroles, and other preparations that call for cooked chicken.
Broiling skinless, boneless chicken breasts is similar to grilling them, and takes about 12 to 15 minutes for 4- to 5-ounce pieces. Consider marinating them or brushing with oil and seasoning them before broiling. This offers flavor and keeps the chicken from drying out. Or remove the pan before the last few minutes of broiling, brush with a sauce such as barbecue sauce, and continue cooking.
When it comes to cooking skinless, boneless chicken breasts, the terms "saute," "pan-fry," and "skillet-cook" all refer to the same basic preparation: You cook the chicken breasts in a skillet in a small amount of fat (such as cooking oil, olive oil, or butter) or in a skillet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. The breasts should be cooked at relatively high heat, turning them as needed so they cook thoroughly while maintaining an enticing golden-brown exterior. It is important not to undercook the chicken breasts -- uncooked chicken breasts are not only tough in texture, but they're also unsafe to eat. Chicken breasts are done when the meat is no longer pink throughout and the juices run clear (170 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer). Try not to overcook chicken breasts, however, as the meat can become stringy and dry. Here's how to skillet-cook 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (3 to 5 ounces each):
- Select a heavy skillet that can accommodate the chicken breasts in one layer. (If the skillet is too large, pan juices can burn; if the skillet is too small, the overcrowded chicken will steam instead of brown).
- If a chicken breast is significantly thicker in some parts than others, consider pounding it with a meat mallet, using the directions below, to even it out.
- Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with salt and ground black pepper to taste.
- If the skillet is not nonstick, lightly coat it with nonstick cooking spray or 2 to 3 teaspoons cooking oil.
- Preheat the skillet over medium-high heat until hot.
- Place the chicken into the skillet. Do not add any liquid and do not cover the skillet.
- Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear. This should take 8 to 12 minutes. As the chicken cooks, turn it occasionally so it browns evenly. If the poultry browns too quickly, reduce the heat to medium low.
It takes just minutes to saute chicken breasts. But for just a few minutes more of your time, you can enjoy a pan sauce to go with it, along with a finishing touch of fresh herbs, garlic, and lemon peel to top it all off. The recipe here will serve four.
- In a small bowl combine 1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, 1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel, and 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic. Set this mixture aside.
- Season four skinless, boneless chicken breasts with salt and ground black pepper to taste. In a 10-inch skillet melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in the hot butter about 6 minutes or until browned, turning once. Remove the chicken breasts from the skillet; remove the skillet from the heat.
- Add half of the herb mixture to the skillet. Return the skillet to the heat and add 1/4 cup chicken broth. As you bring the broth to boiling, use a wire whisk to scrape up the browned bits left behind in the skillet. These tasty browned bits lend richness, flavor, and color to the sauce.
- Return chicken to the skillet. Reduce the heat. Cover the pan and simmer chicken for 8 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Place one chicken breast on each of four serving plates. Divide and spoon the sauce over each chicken breast, then sprinkle the remaining herb mixture evenly over the chicken breasts to serve.
In this recipe, you pound the chicken breasts to a thickness of just 1/8 inch. That gives them more surface area, while making them thin and supple enough to roll around the luscious filling of spinach, cheese, and pine nuts. The chicken rolls are then coated in a Parmesan bread crumb coating for extra flavor and texture. For 6 servings:
- Thaw half of a 10-ounce package of frozen spinach and drain it well by squeezing out the excess water. Set the spinach aside.
- To pound the chicken breasts, start with 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves. Place 1 chicken breast half between two pieces of plastic wrap. Use the flat side of a meat mallet, and working from the thickest part of the breast outward, pound the chicken lightly into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Remove plastic wrap. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Repeat process with all chicken breasts.
- For filling, in a medium skillet heat 2 teaspoons olive oil. Cook 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or onions and 1 minced garlic clove in 2 teaspoons hot oil until tender. Remove from heat; stir in the thawed and drained spinach, 3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, and 3/4 cup shredded smoked mozzarella.
- In a shallow bowl combine 1/4 cup seasoned fine dry bread crumbs and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Set mixture aside.
- To fill each chicken roll, place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the spinach-cheese filling in the center of one flattened chicken piece. Fold in the bottom and sides of the breasts and roll up. Secure the breast with wooden toothpicks. Repeat with each chicken breast.
- Lightly brush each roll with the 1 tablespoon olive oil; coat with bread crumb mixture. Place rolls, seam side down, in a shallow baking pan. Bake, uncovered, in a 400 degrees F oven about 25 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Remove toothpicks before serving. Makes 6 servings.