I used to think that chicken breast meant dry, rubbery, tasteless, and boring unless it spent a night marinating in a magical marinade. Even when I was lucky enough to concoct a magical marinade, rubbery and chewy were still significant possibilities. Plus, I’m lucky when I muster enough foresight to defrost chicken in the fridge the night before, but defrost and marinate requires two nights of advance planning, all too much for this working girl.
This led me to my search for chicken breast recipes that can be made without an overnight marinade. When I say chicken breasts, I mean boneless, skinless (f/k/a tasteless) chicken breasts. Skin on doesn’t count. Skinless, boneless thighs don’t count either. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that skin, bones and dark meat add flavor, but those are easy ways to make chicken taste good. No one blogs about GREAT boneless, skinless chicken breast. Restaurant reviews are rarely highlighting it because everything else tastes better. “Why even cook it?” one might ask. Here’s why I try to find ways to use it: (1) it’s a lean protein source; (2) it is readily available; (3) it is not expensive; and (4) it comes in neatly sealed vacuum packs at Costco.
Below is one of my first success stories with boneless, skinless chicken breast. My Stuffed Chicken with Herbed Goat Cheese and Lemon Cream Fettuccine are a couple of others. This one is adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s Skillet Chicken Breasts Aglio e Oilo. Because of my love for tomatoes, I add tomatoes. I skip the breadcrumbs, and I’ve made this recipe by dredging the chicken in flour first, and skipping that step. Dredging definitely serves up a crispier chicken and a thicker consistency sauce, but it works without dredging too. On a weeknight rush, I skip the dredging. Finally, I usually make this with “chicken broth” which means a 1/2-ish teaspoon of Knorr powdered bouillon and about a cup of water. It isn’t sophisticated, and of course, real chicken stock would be preferable, but I have a day job and live in real life, not in some test kitchen.
Finally, in my quest for good chicken breast dishes, I discovered mistakes I was making:
- Overcooking – DON’T. Once the juices run clear, you are good to go. Don’t get over paranoid about food-borne illnesses and over cook your chicken.
- Slice chicken breasts in half, so they are thinner and require less cooking time. This also creates 4 servings from two breasts, which is better portion control.
- New to the kitchen? Don’t try poaching recipes right off the bat, the risk of rubberiness is high.
- Don’t overcook (worth repeating)!
SKILLET CHICKEN WITH GARLIC AND CAPERS (adapted from Lidia Bastianich)
2 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, halved (approx. 1.5 pounds)
½ cup flour, for dredging the chicken (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons capers, with juices
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon chicken or vegetable bouillon powder (I use Knorr, or you can use ¾ cup of broth)
1 medium tomato, chopped
Trim the chicken breasts and halve the breasts width-wise, creating 4 pieces of chicken, about ½ inch thick. You can keep the chicken tenders connected (the tender is the small flap on the chicken breast).
Season the chicken by sprinkling salt and pepper on all sides. If you want to dredge the chicken, dump the flour on a large plate or a piece of wax paper and toss and coat each breast with the flour, shaking off any excess flour. Dredging is optional (see my note above).
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy bottom pan over medium heat. A dutch oven will also work for this, I wouldn’t recommend a non-stick pan. Once the oil is heated, but not smoking, carefully place the breasts in the pan, with space between them. The oil will splatter so be careful!
Cook the chicken breasts for about 3-4 minutes – NO MOVING OR TOUCHING THEM! There will be a lot of sizzling. This is good. After about 3 minutes you can peek under the first breast you put down to see if the chicken is beginning to brown. If it is pale, put it down and leave it alone. If it is starting to brown, you’re good! Cook the breasts until all of them are lightly browned and then turn the breasts over.
Without moving or touching the breasts, quickly scatter the garlic slices into the spaces between the chicken, then turn up the heat up a little. Shake the pan and stir the slices around in the hot fat so they separate. When the garlic starts to sizzle but NOT BROWN, sprinkle the red pepper flakes and the bouillon powder into the pan and scatter the capers and juices about the pan. (If you are using broth, don’t add it in this step.) Shake up your pan to make sure all the garlic, pepper flakes and capers are distributed in the pan and the juices are mixing and surrounding the chicken.
Turn up the heat again, and when everything is sizzling and crackling, pour the red wine vinegar in and let it reduce for about 30 seconds. Bring it back to a sizzle, then add ¾ cup of water or if you are using broth, add it here. Add the tomatoes. Shake.
Continuing on high heat, bring all of the liquid to a boil and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Keep the pan over the heat, letting the sauce bubble for a few minutes, continuing to shake the pan to mix the ingredients. If you want to thicken the sauce, add a tablespoon of breadcrumbs or a teaspoon of flour to the sauce as you let it bubble and shake up the pan to distribute. Wait another 1-2 minutes, take the pan off the heat, and serve immediately with the fresh parsley. We enjoyed our with some basic roasted vegetables (and I forgot the parsley, but if you have it, use it).