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How to Saute Chicken

Sauteed chicken is a cook's convenient standby for any night of the week. This method is weeknight quick but can also be a showy solution for entertaining, especially with a simple pan sauce. Here's what you need to know.

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Sauteed chicken is the perfect 30-minute meal solution, and you can out turn out a variety of delicious variations with a few added ingredients. The word saute is based on the French word "sauter," which means "to jump." Sauteed chicken is cooked in a small amount of oil or butter over fairly high heat in an open shallow pan. Following are three commonly sauteed chicken parts and the best way to cook them. Regardless of which pieces of chicken you are fixing, the principles are the same:

  • Check out the Safe Handling Chicken tips below.
  • The chicken pieces should be uniform in size for even cooking.
  • Chicken should be dry before cooking, so pat it with paper towels just before sauteing.
  • Don't crowd the pieces in the skillet or they will steam instead of browning nicely. Cook the pieces in batches if necessary.
  • Use the Chicken Saute Chart as a reference for cooking breasts, thighs, and strips.
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Skillet Smarts

Choose a heavy skillet that is the right size for the amount of chicken you have. You can use a nonstick or regular pan. If the skillet is too large, pan juices can burn. If it's too small, the poultry will steam instead of brown. If chicken pieces are large and you need to saute them in batches, add additional oil or butter as necessary.

How to Saute Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breast Halves

  1. Pat chicken dry, then use kitchen shears to trim any fat. Some cooks like to flatten chicken breasts for quick, even cooking. Simply place each chicken breast between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to desired thickness. Then sprinkle breasts with salt and ground black pepper, lemon-pepper seasoning, or your favorite spice blend. 
  2. For four skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 to 1-1/4 pounds total), preheat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, canola oil, or butter in heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot.
  3. Reduce heat to medium; add chicken and cook for 8 to 12 minutes (6 to 8 minutes for flattened chicken) or until chicken is no longer pink, turning twice. Reduce heat to medium if chicken starts to brown too quickly.

How to Saute Chicken Strips or Tenders

Many recipes call for quick-cooking chicken breast strips or tenders. You can cut whole chicken breasts into strips or pieces crosswise or lengthwise, depending on your preference and the dish. These smaller pieces of chicken are prepared in the same way as chicken breasts (above), except the cook time will be shorter -- 6 to 8 minutes total. Keep a close eye on these and turn them occasionally to prevent burning.

Chicken and Vegetable Saute recipe

How to Saute Boneless Chicken Thighs

Dark-meat fans can also use the quick saute cooking method. Opt for skinless, boneless thighs. These can be sauteed similarly to chicken breasts (above), although thights may take a bit longer to cook: 14 to 18 minutes total for 3- to 4-ounce thighs.

Chicken Thighs with Artichokes recipe

How to Deglaze the Pan

After sauteing chicken, you'll likely have a pan of flavorful crusty bits. You can capture these delicious flavor morsels with a technique called deglazing. This means using a liquid such as broth, wine, or water to loosen the particles and dissolve them over heat. Then you can add additional flavorings to create a divine sauce. See Chicken with Pan Sauce for detailed instructions and creative stir-in options.

Make-Ahead Tip

Many recipes call for cooked chicken. Whether you're making chicken salad, enchiladas, or casseroles, sauteing chicken is an excellent way to cook it ahead for later use.

Safe Handling Chicken

  • Store chicken in the coldest part of the refrigerator. If it is not to be used within two days, freeze it.
  • Thaw chicken in the refrigerator or in cold water, not on the countertop. It takes 3 to 9 hours to thaw chicken parts in the refrigerator.
  • To thaw chicken in cold water, place chicken in its original wrapping or in a water-tight plastic bag in cold water, changing water often.
  • For quick thawing, use the microwave on the defrost setting, checking often so the chicken does not actually cook.
  • To check visually for doneness, pierce chicken with a fork. The juices should run clear, not pink.

Chicken Saute Chart

Note: All parts should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Chicken Cut Weight Approximate Cooking Time (Total)
Skinless, boneless breast halves 4 to 5 ounces 8 to 12 minutes
Skinless, boneless breast halves, flattened to 3/8 to 1/2 inch 4 to 5 ounces 6 to 8 minutes
Skinless, boneless strips or tenders 1 to 2 ounces 6 to 8 minutes
Skinless, boneless thighs 3 to 4 ounces 14 to 18 minutes
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