Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How to cook tender chicken: My favorite trick for juicy, perfect chicken

Pan-sauteed chicken over a spinach and strawberry salad

The number one compliment I get on my chicken is that it's moist.  I've lately noticed that a lot of us suffer from CCS: Chewy Chicken Syndrome. Maybe we're afraid of salmonella.  Maybe we like dry, chewy, tasteless chicken.  However, there are ways to treat CCS.  For me, I use a special trick that I rarely ever see home cooks use: pan-sauteeing.

I thought for awhile that I was really on to something unique, until I realized Julia Child's covers this method in-depth in her cookbook The Art of French Cooking

First: never use those pre-frozen, bagged, chicken wannabees.  Why? Because they suck.  And you won't get beautiful, juicy chicken out of them.  Buy them fresh.  They cost about the same, and all you have to do is wrap them individually and freeze them when you get home.

So, first, defrost your boneless, skinless chicken boobs. I mean breasts (sorry, I had to).  However, don't let them cook in the microwave unless you like chewing rubber (my dog does). 

While you're defrosting, get your stainless steel skillet hot.  Medium-high hot.  Sprinkle a little salt over your chicken and then toss those bad boys on the skillet.  Yeah, straight on.  As in, no oil.  I know, I know.  But this works!

What you're doing right now is searing the outside, which will not only help keep the moisture in, but will turn your chicken a delicious golden brown.  Mmmmmmm....

See how the outside is browned but the middle is still raw?

It takes a little practice to know when to turn them, but only turn these baddies once! It's usually about 3-5 minutes per side.  Don't sear them any longer and don't keep turning them because you'll only burn the outside and cook the inside and you don't want the inside of the chicken to cook during the searing process.  We're going to do that with low heat.

Once you're done searing, the juicy part begins.  Now you're going to add some broth or stock to the pan and reduce heat to low.  The amount you add depends on whether or not you're creating a sauce for the chicken.  If you are, then you'll add as much as you need. If not, add only enough to keep the chicken from cooking in dry heat-- about 1/4 inch in the pan, like the ones below.  You aren't going to add too much liquid, so don't worry about that.  Worry about not adding enough, which will dry your chickies out.

Now, cover and let them simmer.  I usually shoot for 5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness.  The ones above, as you can see, are quite thick.  I probably simmered these guys about that long.  I know it's tempting.  I know you want to because so many of us suffer from CCS.  But don't overcook those breasts!  If they're a little pink still, you can keep simmering.  But you can't unsimmer them if you overcook them.

At some point, I'm going to put up a few quick, easy, gourmet-tasting sauces that I make using this method.  But for now, just add a little butter to the stock and season those puppies up and voila!

I put these chickies over a spinach salad with strawberries, carrots, and apple.  I whipped up a little dressing that about even parts red wine vinegar and raspberry jam plus a little olive oil.  Simple. Fast. Divine.  Enjoy!


  1. megan - remember me! i have been following your blog. maybe your blog can teach me how to be an excellent cook over time. i'm a noob. i posted a link to your blog on my craft blog. :)


  2. Can I come live with you? I'll do the dishes if you'll cook my breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, midnight snacks... :) I've always stunk at chicken. THANK YOU for blessing me with your wisdom.

  3. Great post Meg, I totally agree with you. I always sear my chicken first. I like to use a cast iron pan because the heat distributes more evenly and it can get a little hotter... actually, it's almost blackened chicken at that point, but hey, it's tender!

    On a side note, I always sear roasts and stuff too before cooking them. Locks in that moisture, mmmm mmmmm.

    Love your blog :)

  4. I love your beautiful photographs! Cookbooks Never have enough of them. This is almost enough to make me want to try the recipe even though I try to keep my cooking vegetarian. :)

  5. Haha, Day. That is the ultimate compliment!

    Chris: I agree. I loved my cast iron skillet to death; it made everything taste better!

    And I'm going to try that with my next roast. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Hey it's been forever (since french probably a few years ago?!)! stumbled on your blog randomly through a friend...LOVE it! Your stuff is great!

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  8. Meagan,

    I've been cooking forever, but my cooking rarely includes succulent meat as the featured food. One of the main reasons for this is my lack of expertise in having it turn out to my satisfaction. I recently heard about pan-searing as a technique for locking in the juices and flavor. Seeing your blog not only provides a good detailed description of how to successfully make fantastic chicken, but the pictures are super helpful! They say a thousand words and give me an idea of how my chicken should look when it's done. This weekend, I will definitely be trying my hand at whipping up some delicious chicken. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. Meagan,

    Who knew that you had a cooking blog! And your giving away a pass to La Caille!? I love that place. When I was a boy I used to go there and pluck the feathers out of all the peacocks and make a giant headdress out of them! :)

  10. Mmm. It's super good. I'm a first-hand witness.

  11. I love your blog! It makes me so hungry and gives me a lot of culinary inspiration!

  12. I will need to try this recipe for sure. Thanks for the heads up!

  13. I need to try this. Life is too short for chewy chicken!

  14. Bonjour! Votre blog et votre profil m'ont énormément intrigué et je voulais vous saluer. J'espère que ça ne dérange pas!

    Passez chez-moi si ça vous dit qqc. Vous y êtes la bienvenue: jaredheath.blogspot.com.

    Heureux de trouver votre blog!