Sunday, October 14, 2007


My favourite thing to do with chicken

It’s occurred to me that once in a while it might be nice to post a recipe, or some less-rigorous description of how to cook something nice. Maybe someone’ll appreciate the sharing. And so, here’s my favourite (and easiest) thing to do with chicken.

This involves boneless chicken breasts, which I get in packages of three or four. I chop up garlic very finely, maybe one large clove for two breasts. I chop some fresh rosemary leaves, about the same quantity of chopped material as the garlic, mix them, and add some grated lemon rind and salt & pepper. I spread that on both sides of the chicken breasts, then sprinkle them with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I let that marinate for at least a couple of hours, up to a day or two — usually I do it for a day.

To cook them, heat a stainless-steel pan to medium-high, put in a little more olive oil, and put the breasts in presentation-side down to brown them very well. I don’t like using a non-stick pan for this, because I don’t think they brown as well in that... and don’t be afraid to get some real colour and crispness into them.[1] When they’re brown enough, carefully loosen them and turn them over, and turn the heat down to medium. Cook them on the other side until they’re done, when an instant-read meat thermometer reads between 155F and 160F.[2]

They come out very tender and tasty this way. Sometimes I serve them whole, but I prefer to slice them ½ inch to 1 inch thick, and arrange them nicely with whatever else I’m serving. Sautéed mushrooms and roasted potatoes go along with this nicely.

[1] Many people don’t brown food enough, afraid to “burn” it. You certainly can burn food, but a good, rich, dark-brown colour is not “burnt”, and is very tasty. Use the right heat, and enough time to get it that way. And remember that surface colour and interior doneness are largely independent.

[2] How can you cook meat without an instant-read thermometer? The biggest mistake most people make with chicken and pork is to overcook it. Get an instant-read thermometer, and check the meat early enough. If you let a chicken breast go to 170F or more, it’ll be dry and tough. If you take it off the stove at 155F, it’ll be cooked through and done properly, and will still be nice and juicy and tender.

I once served a marinated pork tenderloin to some friends, and one remarked that it was the best, most tender pork he’d ever had. “What’s your secret?” he asked. No secret, I replied. Just get a good piece of meat, and don’t overcook it.


Dr. Momentum said...

I've made pan-cooked chicken just like this, and it is excellent. I usually use a cast iron pan, and sometimes I use the oven for part of the cooking.

The browning is, indeed, essential to flavor. Just ask Louis-Camille Maillard!

The USDA recommends cooking whole poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F -- measured at the thickest point. I tend to like it a little more done than that.

The danger of drying out can also greatly be reduced by brining. Although, I'm not sure this is usually necessary or desirable for pan-cooked chicken.

You're making me hungry.

Barry Leiba said...

On temperature:
If you're squeamish, you can go for 160 to 165 instead of 155 to 160. Remember that the temperature will rise as you let the meat sit (you should always let it rest for at least 5 minutes before serving), so if you stop cooking between 155 and 160, it'll be at 160-ish when you serve it.

My experience is that chicken breasts at 160F are properly cooked, with no pink remaining, and that thigh meat needs a somewhat higher temp (165-ish), but is moister and can tolerate that.

Anonymous said...

A raised braised forkful to you, my friend! Letting it "rest for at least 5 minutes" will now be my official excuse for running around to catch up with the side dishes, beverages, etc.

As for other delightfully delicious courses, my plan this week is to finally use that glorious pumpkin cheesecake recipe you shared with me last year.

Hugs and bon appetit!
That DC Beatty Towers Girl