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Perfectly Cooking Boneless Chicken Breasts


bucktown_boffo
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I mostly saute chicken in oil and butter, sometimes in flour, and the results are hit and miss. The biggest problem is overcooking the chicken -- it seems like there is an incredibly narrow zone of tenderness that high-temperature cooking is ill-suited to reach accurately. I've tried brining and that helps, but am not in love with what it does to the texture of the meat.

Would I be better off doing some version of sous-vide or other low-temperature cooking? I read through that thread and would love to try it, but have only my gas stove to depend on (not gonna buy new appliances or laboratory equipment). I do have a food saver.

What about a hot sear on top of the stove followed by very low temperature baking? Again, I have to depend on gas oven so it'll be hard to maintain consistent low temperature.

Any other ideas?

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I mostly saute chicken in oil and butter, sometimes in flour, and the results are hit and miss.  The biggest problem is overcooking the chicken -- it seems like there is an incredibly narrow zone of tenderness that high-temperature cooking is ill-suited to reach accurately.  I've tried brining and that helps, but am not in love with what it does to the texture of the meat.

Would I be better off doing some version of sous-vide or other low-temperature cooking?  I read through that thread and would love to try it, but have only my gas stove to depend on (not gonna buy new appliances or laboratory equipment).  I do have a food saver.

What about a hot sear on top of the stove followed by very low temperature baking?  Again, I have to depend on gas oven so it'll be hard to maintain consistent low temperature.

Any other ideas?

Bucktown,Get yourself an instant read thermometer for around 10$,cant go wrong--Dave s

"Food is our common ground,a universal experience"

James Beard

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Use thighs instead.

Seriously, is there some reason you're determined to use boneless chicken breasts? The thighs have much more flavor and are much more forgiving of slight overcooking (a cooking instructor I know put it this way: "the problem with chicken breasts is that you have a 30 second window between salmonella and chicken dust.").

If you want to use breasts, and you don't like brining, you might consider pounding or slicing the meat into thin pieces (like a scallopini) so they'll cook evenly and very quickly.

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I agree about the thighs-that's all I ever use for braises, but I also like these. I have no idea where I copied this from, but it works every time-the chicken is always juicy. Don't pound them too thin-mine are usually thicker than 1/4-inch. I almost always serve these w/ a little sauce; I have a master recipe for pan sauce and tons of variations.

HOW TO SAUTÉ:

Plan on 1 small boneless, skinless half-breast (6-8 oz.) / person. Sautéed chicken breasts should be a rich nut-brown on the outside & tender and juicy on the inside. The secret to success is high heat; not so high as to burn the fat, but pretty close. If the pan is hot enough, the chicken will take –more or less exactly– four minutes per side to cook through.

Either separate the tender from the fillet, or butterfly the tender and leave it attached (it all depends on how large and thick the breast is). Place between 2 pieces of saran wrap or wax paper. Pound each piece to a uniform thickness. Dust lightly w/ flour, shaking off excess, and then sprinkle both sides w/ salt & pepper (and any other seasonings if desired.) Pat into chicken.

Heat equal parts olive oil and butter until sizzling in a non-stick pan just large enough to hold the chicken breasts without crowding over medium–high heat. For two half-breasts, use about 2 teaspoons each of butter & olive oil.

Sauté for 4 minutes on the first side, then turn and cook for 3–4 minutes longer on the second side. The chicken should feel firm to the touch & milky juices should appear around the tenderloin. (You can cut into one in the center w/ a knife to make sure.)

Remove to a warm plate & tent loosely w/ foil while you make the sauce. You can also place the loosely covered chicken into a 200º oven.

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Thanks for the posts. Marie-Louise, I usually follow, almost to a T, the recipe you laid out, but with inconsistent results. Perhaps I don't pay enough attention to time, which seems to be of critical importance.

I like JAZ's quote about a 30 second window between salmonella and chicken dust. Wouldn't a quick hot sear in oil and butter, followed by an extended stay in the oven at a low temperature (say between 200 and 300) mitigate against this?

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... Perhaps I don't pay enough attention to time, which seems to be of critical importance...

Overdoing them is indeed the kiss of death. Keeping them thick enough to get nut-brown adds flavor, but keep them an even thickness so they cook evenly. Details count in simple preparations such as this.

I also grill (unbrined but marinated) boneless, skinless breasts-for about 3 minutes a side on medium indirect heat. Always juicy.

PS Where is your recipe from? (in other words, who should I give credit to for mine) :wink:

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I have had the same problem. However, I have adopted the method of cooking chicken breasts as described in this recipe on Melinda Lee's web site.

The first few times I did make the stuffed breasts as the recipe describes, but then began to cook the plain chicken breasts using the same technique for other recipes and found that it works better than any other method I have used for this chicken product.

I usually used bone-in chicken breasts with the skin, which makes for a totally different end product, but occasionally I have to use the boneless skinless ones and other than poaching them, which I do for salads, I like this method best.

For poaching, I simply use chicken broth with lemon juice so it is about 1/2 inch deep in my saucier, (for each cup of broth I add two tablespoons of lemon juice).

Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and a dash or two of tobasco.

When the liquid is simmering, I carefully slide in the breasts taking care not to crowd them, there should be at least 1/2-3/4 inch space between them, turn the heat up until the broth is boiling, then cover tightly and turn off the heat. (if your pan does not have a tight-fitting lid, stretch foil across the pan (have it ready before you put the chicken in the pan) then put the lid on and turn the heat off.

In 45 minutes your chicken breasts will be poached perfectly.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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This is a problem I think a lot of home cooks encounter. I for one don't like chicken thighs nearly as much as I like chicken breasts, but I always used to have problems overcooking breasts, so they ended up rubbery or dry.

I took a cooking class where one of the dishes was a sauteed chicken breast. The instructor told us the trick was to take the breasts off the heat just before the juices ran clear (similar to Marie-Louise's method), and then let them sit for a couple of minutes under foil before serving. She explained that the problem with cooking the breasts up to/past the point of doneness on the stove is that they will continue to cook for few minutes after they're taken off the heat, and that's how they get dried out. When she took the breasts off the heat and cut one open, the juices were opaque, which I had always been taught meant the chicken wasn't done. We waited 2-3 minutes and she cut into the other breast, which was thicker than the first one. Now the juices were clear. It had finished cooking off the heat.

I've been using this technique ever since and in the 30+ times I've done it we've never gotten sick, but we use organic, free-range meat, which as I understand carries less salmonella risk. The breasts come out very moist and tender, without chewiness or a rubbery texture.

I think timing is a big issue and since breasts can vary in thickness so much, sometimes it's hard to estimate the right moment to pull them off the heat. But with a little practice I've gotten this method to work well.

HTH

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Yeah, carry-over cooking is probably a big part of the problem. Wouldn't cooking the chicken in the oven at a low temperature for a longer time reduce the potential of this happening?

As for poaching, it's something I've never tried, and am a little wary of. I really like the crunch and appearance of a nicely browned exterior, which you don't get with poaching. Also, while I'm sure the poaching liquid adds flavor, won't the chicken also lose some natural juices as well?

Edited by bucktown_boffo (log)
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As for poaching, it's something I've never tried, and am a little weary of.  I really like the crunch and appearance of a nicely browned exterior, which you don't get with poaching.  Also, while I'm sure the poaching liquid adds flavor, won't the chicken also lose some natural juices as well?

Curious, how can you be weary of poaching chicken breasts if you've never done it?

I always poach turkey breasts in turkey broth at 160º until the center reaches that temperature. It comes out juicy, and slices perfectly.

Another way to make sure chicken breasts sauté up juicy is to bread them and pan-fry in a mixture of butter and olive oil. :cool:

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Yeah, carry-over cooking is probably a big part of the problem.  Wouldn't cooking the chicken in the oven at a low temperature for a longer time reduce the potential of this happening?

As for poaching, it's something I've never tried, and am a little wary of.  I really like the crunch and appearance of a nicely browned exterior, which you don't get with poaching.  Also, while I'm sure the poaching liquid adds flavor, won't the chicken also lose some natural juices as well?

bucktown - you have suggested slow cooking in a few of your posts but I would not suggest that cuts of meat like chicken breasts are not best suitable for slow cooking at a low temperature - you'll only end up drying it out. You really want darker, bone in meat for that type of cooking.

IMHO mastering the timing of quick pan searing is the best option if you don't want to poach. FWIW I would highly recommend poaching and I don't believe the chicken loses juices it will be moist and juicy. If you are worried about the texture then you could try poaching and finishing it off with a quick sear in a very hot pan with some fat to get some crunch.

Good luck in your quest :wink:

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Thanks for the tip. I will definitely try poaching.

If you are worried about the texture then you could try poaching and finishing it off with a quick sear in a very hot pan with some fat to get some crunch.

Will chicken sear properly after poaching? I'm worried that even if I towel-dry the chicken after poaching, it will still have retained liquid and just steam instead of brown in the pan.

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Thanks for the tip.  I will definitely try poaching.
If you are worried about the texture then you could try poaching and finishing it off with a quick sear in a very hot pan with some fat to get some crunch.

Will chicken sear properly after poaching? I'm worried that even if I towel-dry the chicken after poaching, it will still have retained liquid and just steam instead of brown in the pan.

Not if your pan is hot enough - You need a very hot pan with hot fat in it. Let the meat rest for a while after poaching and then dry you can even dust with flour and seasoning to absorb some moisture which will crisp up when you pan fry.

Get your pan super hot though

That said - This may not work for you but it's worth a try...

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... The instructor told us the trick was to take the breasts off the heat just before the juices ran clear (similar to Marie-Louise's method), and then let them sit for a couple of minutes under foil before serving. She explained that the problem with cooking the breasts up to/past the point of doneness on the stove is that they will continue to cook for few minutes after they're taken off the heat, and that's how they get dried out. When she took the breasts off the heat and cut one open, the juices were opaque, which I had always been taught meant the chicken wasn't done. We waited 2-3 minutes and she cut into the other breast, which was thicker than the first one. Now the juices were clear. It had finished cooking off the heat...

HTH

Now that I think about it, I do take them off the heat before they are "done." I do that for both grilled and sauteed boneless chicken breasts. I usually take the grilled ones off while the juices are still a little pink, but after a few minutes the juices are clear. (You know you've done it right when there still ARE juices in the chicken breast! :smile: ) I also do this for pork tenderloin-another cut of meat that turns to sawdust when overcooked. Actually, now that I really stop and think about it, I always let my meat rest for a while after cooking, and I just tent it LOOSELY with foil so it doesn't steam. (I cannot get my husband to stop wrapping the foil around the plate as if it is going in the fridge. I keep telling him to think "tent.")

I do a variation on Andie's poached chicken breasts-simmer (not boil) in stock for 3 minutes, then set aside off the heat for 20 more minutes. I haven't made these as an entree in ages, but they are very good w/ a nice rich sauce on them.

Here's a cut & paste of my recipe for poached chicken:

4–6 boneless chicken half breasts, skin on

6 cups chicken stock + enough water to cover chicken

Bring chicken stock to a boil in a sauté pan. Add chicken breasts and simmer, not boil, for 3 minutes.

Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 20 minutes. Note: the poaching liquid is not salted, as that would draw flavor from the chicken.

Transfer chicken breasts to a warm platter & allow to rest for 5 minutes. Remove and discard the skin, slice, and serve.

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It has occured to me that boneless skinless chicken breast is the most over-rated cut of meat available. Do you put a sauce with it? even if you don't do a sauce, you can deglaze and pop it into the oven to finish.

Pan sear the breasts

pour off excess fat

add shallot or onion,or leak or garlic if you want( Bell pepper, artichoke, tomato, ....)

deglaze with wine, lemon or whatever(wostchesteshire, basalmic.....)

add a little stock

pop in a hot oven

pull the pan

plate the breasts

reduce the pan sauce

sauce the breast with the light sauce

or add a touch of cream, or tomato sauce, or swirl in butter for a richer sauce.

Use any vegi early and any liquid you want, finish however you want. Use any herb or spice element you want.

Finishing in the oven with sort of a pan-braise allows you a little more flexibility in timing the dish to hit the table.

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I am a believer in the saute to brown then in the oven to finish routine. However, I was pleasantly suprised once when I was in a hurry and did the finishing in the microwave. 3 minutes and the usual rest yielded a really good, really moist 3 chicken breasts. I have used that method many times since and usually with good results, if the breasts are particularly large or thick it may take longer. If I have extra time I will still use the oven. but I am not sure it is better.

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I always cook boneless chicken breasts sous vide - about 45 minutes at 130°. I then cool them off and sauté them very briefly skin side only at high heat just to crispen the skin. I like them a touch pink in the center. If you prefer them cooked through you might want to leave them in the 130° water an extra five minutes. You can even stick an instant read thermometer in the chicken before you close the bag. That way you can leave it until it reaches the temperature you like.

Ruth Friedman

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Re: Poaching. If you slide your chicken breasts into simmering liquid, bring it quickly to a boil then turn it off, the heat of the liquid will not force the juices out of the meat as it would if you put them in cold liquid and brought it up to simmer.

As the meat cooks in the slowly cooling liquid, the juices remain in the meat and a bit of the poaching liquid is drawn in also.

Since I usually use this poached chicken for salads, I do not want it seared or browned. However, if I do want it glazed or browned, I simply put them on a sheet pan and run them under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, just enough to get some color.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Re: Poaching.  If you slide  your chicken breasts into simmering liquid, bring it quickly to a boil then turn it off, the heat of the liquid will not force the juices out of the meat as it would if you put them in cold liquid and brought it up to simmer. 

A method I've seen recommended is to bring the liquid up to a full boil, remove it from the heat, then add the chicken (or whatever's being poached). Is there an advantage to adding the chicken and then raising it to a boil before turning it off?

I think I'm a bit paranoid about making the meat tough. Any time the word "boil" comes into a recipe involving meat, I get a mite nervous. :unsure:

"The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet." - Judith Martin (Miss Manners)

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I boil the stock, then turn the stock down to a simmer for the first three minutes. I like that method because I'm worried that the cold chicken might cool the stock & cause the chicken itself to spend too much time in that danger zone for bacterial growth. A few minutes at a simmer makes me feel comfortable it will stay at a nice temperature when it sits off heat for 20 minutes.

I am careful to turn the heat down once the chicken's in so that it doesn't boil. I agree-that would not be a good thing.

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my wife is always amazed at how juicy my chicken is

i guess i have a knack

you need oven at around 400

chicken breasts always depends on size and temperature you start cooking it from.

season chicken with salt then pat with flour ( i like rice flour) remove excess, put into about 2 tablespoon nearly snmoking oil in a frying pan, turn heat down a little, sear (light golden), turn, sear, drain excess fat from pan and put in oven 3 minutes turn poke with finger (repeat as necessary)- then it;s all about the finger test - firmish - like not solid - take out from oven rest - eat enjoy

you should be able to cook a big chicken breast using the 400 oven in about 10 to 12 minutes - i bought some smaller ones the other day and they only took six (but i think i cranked the oven up)

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I hated chicken breasts until I discovered steaming them. It's a wonderful way to keep them juicy. Somehow even when they're overcooked they don't taste as bad as being overcooked from being boiled/grilled/fried.

I season with soysauce, sesame oil and steam it for 5 minutes topped with a handful of chopped garlic, chillies and scallions.

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