The Best Way to Cook Chicken Fillets

Grilled Chicken breast with vegetables
A grilled chicken breast fillet. (Image: lewty92/iStock/Getty Images)

With approximately 9 grams of protein per ounce, chicken fillets are a lean source of protein and a healthy addition to your diet. Cooking these thin slices of breast meat can be tricky, though, because they are prone to drying out. Keep the fillets moist and flavorful without adding a lot of fat or sodium by using quick-cooking methods such as grilling, pan searing, oven baking or broiling.

Grilling the Breasts

Grilling is a quick, healthy method for cooking chicken fillets, but because they're so thin, you risk overcooking them. Not only will this leave you with a tough product, but if the overcooking results in charring, it might endanger your health. CNN reports that charred chicken and meat result in chemical compounds -- called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- that may be human carcinogens. You don't have to abandon the grill altogether, though. Place the fillets in a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil and herbs -- such as rosemary or tarragon -- for an hour or two before cooking. Pat them dry and then place them on the grill for just a few minutes each side. The acidity of the marinade creates a barrier that prevents the potentially harmful compounds from sticking and keeps your chicken low-fat and high in flavor.

Breading and Baking

Frying helps retain the moisture of fillets while adding texture but raises the fat and calorie content. Bread and bake the fillets instead, which still provides a crunchy exterior and moist interior while only minimally changing the nutritional status of the bird's breast. Dust the fillets in flour first, and then dunk in beaten egg and finally in a crunchy coating such as panko, Japanese breadcrumbs. Lay on a baking sheet and spritz with nonstick cooking spray. Bake until the coating is crispy and the meat is cooked through.

Saucy Specimens

Pan-searing a chicken fillet is a quick and easy way to cook up dinner, but it can leave you with a bland piece of meat. Avoid adding bottled or jarred sauces, which often contain high amounts of sodium and sugar. Instead, put together a quick pan-sauce that adds flavor, moisture and may even add some nutritional punch. After you brown the fillets in a hot pan coated with olive oil, add in aromatics such a minced garlic and onion, deglaze with little chicken broth or citrus juice and toss in flavorings such as chopped olives, tomatoes or mushrooms. Finish with a teaspoon of butter or heavy cream -- not enough to put the calorie and fat level over the edge of healthy but enough to add a good flavor. Cooked tomatoes add lycopene, an antioxidant, olives add healthy unsaturated fats and mushrooms have zinc, manganese and B vitamins.

All Broiled Up

Place seasoned chicken fillets under a broiler for just a few minutes for each side to have your chicken ready in a snap. Broiling maintains the fillet's lean qualities. Add spices, such as cumin, cayenne and coriander or a bit of curry powder to pump up the flavor. You can then slice the fillets and toss in a green salad, to up your veggie intake for the day, or into a quick soup made with chicken broth, carrots, onions, celery and zucchini.

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