Chicken’s mild flavor, tender texture and reasonable price make it a staple in many households. Countless casserole recipes call for cooked or partially-cooked, boneless skinless chicken breasts. If the casserole calls for cooked chunks of chicken, you can gently boil chicken breasts in salted water. Other casseroles call for browned chicken breasts. Browning breasts in a skillet gives them a firmer texture and the quick, intense heat causes chemical reactions, called Maillard reaction, in the outer surface of the meat that enhance its flavor. Depending on the recipe, you might simply brown the meat or you might cook it fully in the skillet. For the simplest method of precooking breasts, bake them in a moderate oven.
Spread the chicken breasts out in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add enough boiling water to cover the breasts. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water. This forces water into the breast, making it more tender. Bring the water to a boil.
Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the skillet tightly and let the breasts simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and juices run clear.
Remove the skillet from the heat and let the breasts cool in the water to enhance their moistness.
Pound the thickest part of the breasts with a meat mallet so they are uniform in thickness and cook more evenly.
Preheat a skillet over a medium-high heat until it is hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle and dance.
Pat the chicken breasts dry with a paper towel to improve the Maillard reaction and create a tastier crust on the chicken.
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and spread it so it covers the skillet. Heat the olive oil until it shimmers or begins to smoke. .
Add the chicken breasts to the skillet. Sear one side for 3 to 5 minutes, then turn the breasts using tongs and sear the other side for 3 to 5 minutes. If you are simply browning breasts to include in a casserole that will cook them completely, such as a slow cooker casserole, sear the breasts for only 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dry the breasts with paper towels and then rub them with a small amount of olive oil.
Place the breasts evenly spaced in a casserole dish with a lid. Bake them in the middle of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until juices run clear.
- Beef Culinary Center: Brown = Flavor: The Maillard Reaction
- The American-International Encyclopedic Cookbook; Anne London
- United States Department of Agriculture: Chicken From Farm To Table