Tender and flavorful chicken reaffirms why you keep it in your weekly meal rotation. Then there are those nights where your dinner tastes dry, bland and tough, causing you to reconsider why you even buy chicken breast.
Instead of settling for a sad cutlet for supper, follow this simple, chef-approved, five-step method that guarantees a winner chicken dinner.
Step 1: Pound It Out
If you're planning to make some chicken cutlets, don't forget to pound the meat with a mallet first.
Pounding chicken helps break down muscle fibers and tenderize the meat. It also creates a more uniform thickness, allowing it to cook more quickly and evenly.
But before pounding it, you'll need to butterfly it. Here's how to do it:
- Place the chicken cutlet on your cutting board.
- Then, using a sharp knife, start at the thicker end and slice into the breast about halfway down from the top. Be sure to leave a small portion of the chicken attached once you reach the thinner end of the breast.
- Open the chicken breast so that it resembles a butterfly; then, place a piece of parchment paper or saran wrap on top.
- Using a meat mallet, rolling pin or heavy skillet, pound it, making sure the thickness across the entire chicken breast is as even as possible.
If you're not making cutlets, then feel free to skip this step.
Step 2: Cut Against the Grain
All animal proteins, including chicken breast, are made up of bundles of muscle fibers. Cutting against, or perpendicular to, those fibers helps break them apart and creates a more tender piece of chicken.
Here's how to spot those muscle fibers: Look for long white lines that run parallel together within the meat. Once you find these parallel fibers, cut across them.
Step 3: Make a Marinade
When preparing chicken breasts, especially if they're boneless and skinless, marinating is vital.
A marinade generally contains oil, acid and seasonings. The acid is the key component because it helps break down the muscle fibers and tenderize the meat. The marinade as a whole infuses flavor and adds moisture to chicken breast, which isn't as fatty as other cuts of meat or poultry.
So what's an acid? Acidic ingredients include citrus juice, vinegar, dairy products such as yogurt and buttermilk, or natural enzymes found in pineapple. As for the seasonings, you can use anything from herbs and spices to soy sauce and garlic.
Marinate chicken breast in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to overnight prior to cooking.
Step 4: Cook It and Take the Temperature
Whether you're cooking your chicken breast on the stovetop or in the oven, temperature is always the best indicator of doneness.
Overcooked chicken can be dry and chewy, while undercooked poultry is unsafe to eat and simply not an option. The safe internal temperature for chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, per the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Remember: The chicken will continue to cook once it leaves the pan, so when it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, you can place it on a cutting board to rest and come up to temperature.
Step 5: Let It Rest
Have you ever cut into poultry only to witness all the juices escape onto the cutting board or plate?
That's because it didn't have enough time to rest. Allowing the meat to rest before serving helps redistribute the juices in that chicken breast and keep the moisture locked inside.
Simply move the chicken to a cutting board, tent some foil over it and allow it to rest for approximately 10 minutes before serving.