10 Chef Secrets for How to Cook Chicken Breasts Perfectly
The bird's the word when it comes to weight loss: A 3-ounce chicken breast serving is just 142 calories and 3 grams of fat, yet packs 26 grams of muscle-boosting protein. But be honest: When's the last time you got excited for a chicken breast to appear on your plate? Unfortunately, this go-to lean protein can be a bit (okay, a lot!) boring. That's why we turned to chefs for some tips to amp up the flavor in chicken breasts. Sure, some of these expert moves will add extra calories, but it's better than getting so tired of chicken you abandon it entirely. See the pro moves below and then also find out the 30 Kitchen Skills Everyone Should Know by 30.
Use Dairy as a Marinade
The best way to ensure your chicken tastes great is with the right marinade, says Chef Maneet Chauhan of Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville, Tennessee. "I marinate my chicken in a cream cheese and yogurt mixture to ensure it doesn't dry out," he says.
Season Your Yogurt Marinade
The yogurt marinade is a fave tip from chefs! Daniel Shemtob from TLT Food, which has restaurants in Pasadena, Westwood, Irvine and Newport Beach, California, likes to use a plain yogurt marinade seasoned with turmeric, onion, garlic, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. Let's give an extra round of applause for the turmeric; a study from the USDA found that it can reduce weight gain and body fat levels. For more ways to incorporate the spice into your dishes, don't miss these 21 Winning Turmeric Recipes.
Cut the Breast in Half
If you have a thick chicken breast, cut it in half so you can cook it evenly, Shemtob suggests. "If you don't, you'll dry out the ends of the chicken while waiting for the thickest part to cook through." Make sure your knife is plenty sharp for slicing through the chicken breast, though; if it's too dull, it's not safe to try sawing through the chicken. (And no, you don't need a fancy electronic sharpener; you can just buy a tried-and-true rod sharpener that works wonders!)
Finish it in the Oven
Another way to make sure your chicken doesn't turn out overdone and rubbery is to sear it in a pan on medium-high heat and then finish cooking it in an oven at a lower temperature, Shemtob dishes. That way, it will still reach the needed internal temperature while remaining juicy, he says. And for plenty of chicken recipes, bookmark our list of 35 Best-Ever Chicken Recipes for Weight Loss!
Brine, Baby, Brine!
Jordan Moore, the executive chef at steakhouse Burwell's in Charleston, explains that chicken breasts are a light and delicate protein that can lend themselves to any flavor profile you throw at them. That can be a heavy spice and smoke or a flavorful poaching broth or bouillon. A basic principle he follows: Always brine! For the unfamiliar, brining is a liquid cure of salt or salt and sugar and allows the chicken to be seasoned from the inside out. It also allows chicken breasts to obtain a higher water content, making them juicier. Moore shares this brining instructional for boneless and skinless breasts:
Dissolve a half-cup of kosher salt and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar into 6 cups of warm water. Then add 2 cups of ice water to cool to room temperature faster. Place mixture in the refrigerator until cold and then add your chicken breasts. Allow them to set for one to two hours, depending on the thickness of the breasts. After this point, you can add any type of spices or barbecue rub you prefer, Moore says.
Cook it 'under a Brick'
This next tip is courtesy of Executive Chef Seadon Shouse of Halifax in Hoboken, NJ, which specializes in North-Eastern farm and coastal cuisine. He suggests seasoning chicken breasts with salt and black pepper, then placing them in a pre-heated skillet on low-medium heat, skin side down with a little vegetable oil. "Then, wrap a brick in aluminum foil and place the brick on top of the breasts that are cooking in the pan," he says. "The weight will help the breasts to cook more evenly and the skin will get very crispy with this cooking method."
Inject the Chicken with Marinade
Wes Whitsell, the executive chef at Manuela in downtown Los Angeles, suggests that you stab the chicken breast with a fork if you're grilling it; this will help the marinade penetrate the chicken breast. A good marinade mix he suggests: Lots of olive oil, lemon zest, lemon pepper, cayenne, paprika, and a touch of honey. Don't be too shy about the olive oil and its healthy fats; in fact, you should find out What Happens to Your Body When You Don't Eat Enough Fat!
Become a Grill Master
Speaking of grilling: You won't want to overcook your chicken, but make sure to give it a good char and then let it rest before slicing, Whitsell suggests. "People have a misconceived notion about chicken," he says. "If cooking with bone-in, having the meat pink near the bone is OK, and you want juices to run out when slicing it. If there's no juice, then it's overcooked."
When in Doubt, Try a Chimichurri Sauce
Katie Lorenzen, the executive chef at Tavern & Table in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, dishes that her restaurant uses a chimichurri sauce to marinade a lot of proteins, including chicken. Lorenzen, who battled Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America and won, shared her chimichurri sauce recipe with us. All you do is place the following ingredients in a blender and blend: 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 3 cloves garlic, 1 shallot, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon cumin, 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 2 bunches cilantro, 1 bunch parsley, 1 cup oil.
Give it a Water Bath!
In case you didn't notice, cooking class is officially in session. Chef Danny Elmaleh from the Doheny Room in West Hollywood, California, suggests starting with a 1-quart Ziploc bag with 1.5 tablespoons of herbs like thyme, rosemary, and tarragon, along with some garlic and a lemon peel. Then, lightly pound it with a mallet. (Don't have one? A wine bottle will do the trick). Just be careful not to pierce the bag. Add in 1 cup of cold water and a chicken breast and let it marinate for two to three hours. Then, drain all the liquid while keeping the chicken in the bag. Prepare a water bath to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and place the Ziploc bag gently in the bath so the bag remains closed. Cook for about 30 to 45 minutes. When you're ready to sear the chicken breast, Elmaleh suggests using a Teflon pan and seasoning the skin side with light salt. The chicken is perfectly cooked and only needs to get a crispy skin and warmed through. Sound like a lot of work? It comes with this promise: "This will be the most tender and juicy chicken breast you have ever tried," Elmaleh says. If that was a little too intimidating, then try one of these 20 Lazy Dinner Recipes for Weight Loss—and revisit this expert tip another time!