3 Ways to Insure Delicious Chicken Breasts

Here’s how to take a grill-ready summer staple from bland to grand.
Published July 13, 2016

Is summer the official season of chicken? It just may be. Chicken is everywhere when the weather heats up: at the dinner table, on the grill, in our sandwiches. Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts are a perfect go-to dinner. And they’re great to cook up anytime the temperature gets near the century mark.

But let’s face facts: Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts are pretty boring, too often a blank canvas of flat, blah flavors. Worse yet, these breasts are easy to overcook. Too long over the heat, and they become a nasty mess of stringy chicken shards.

We’ve got three answers to the problem of dry chicken breasts:


1. Brine 'em.

Why? After being submerged in salt water, the chicken breasts will plump up and be moist and tender every time. You can hardly overcook them!

How? To get the job done for four (4-ounce) boneless, skinless,  chicken breasts, mix 4 teaspoons salt with 2 cups water in a zip-closed plastic bag. Add the breasts, seal, shake well, and refrigerate for about 2 hours. Don’t want to go to the trouble of making a brine? Save the pickle juice from jars when you finish the pickles, then soak the breasts in that briny liquid in the fridge for 2 to 4 hours.

Then what? If you want to add a wet or dry rub, use a no-salt concoction, since you’ve put salt into the breasts with the brine. Cook them over direct high heat on the grill for about 10 minutes, turning once. Or give them a spritz of nonstick spray and cook them in a nonstick grill pan or skillet set over medium-high heat for 12 minutes, turning once.

Chow down! Serve these juicy breasts in whole-wheat buns with lots of pickle relish and diced romaine lettuce. Or offer them with grilled asparagus or steamed green beans as well as condiments like purchased chutney or caponata. Or chop them and add to a mayonnaise-based chicken salad for lunches on the go in whole-wheat pita pockets.


2. Pound 'em.

Why? Once you flatten a chicken breast to a thin sheet of meat — in fancy culinary lingo, a "paillard" (pronounced pie-YARD) — the chicken will cook in no time flat. Better still, it will cook evenly throughout, no threat of shards at all.

How? Place a boneless, skinless, chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap; set it on a solid surface that won’t nick. Pound the breast until it’s 1/4-inch thick, using the smooth side of a meat mallet, the bottom of a heavy-duty saucepan, or the side of a heavy cleaver. Make sure you flatten all the areas equally for an evenly thick paillard.

Then what? Coat the pounded chicken breast with any rub, dry or wet. Then cook it on the grill over direct high heat or in a lightly sprayed grill pan set over medium-high heat for about 5 to 6 minutes, turning once, until browned and cooked through.

Try our rub. Here’s our favorite Mediterranean rub for four (4-ounce) pounded chicken breasts. Mix all this in a small bowl: 2 teaspoons minced sage leaves, 2 teaspoons minced rosemary leaves, 2 teaspoons stemmed thyme leaves, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder. Massage the rub over the pounded breasts, then set aside while you heat the grill or the grill pan.

Chow down! Follow the French-chef model and serve chicken paillards over beds of lightly dressed, chopped salad greens and diced cucumbers on the plates. Or cut each paillard into thin strips and toss with freshly cooked pasta, some steamed frozen veggies and a splash of balsamic vinegar.


3. Skewer 'em.

Why? Before skewering those boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, chop them into smaller chunks. They’ll not only cook more quickly, but more surface area will be exposed to the heat, giving you more crunch, more flavor, and a more satisfying meal.

How? Soak bamboo skewers in water for 15 to 20 minutes. Cut each (4-ounce) boneless, skinless, chicken breast into four pieces. Toss those pieces with a wet rub, then thread the pieces onto the drained skewers, one or two pieces of chicken per skewer, pushing them down an inch or two from the pointy end.

Skip the bottled stuff.  Try this Asian ginger-curry rub: Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl; squeeze 2 medium garlic cloves into the bowl through a garlic press. Add 1 tablespoon jarred minced ginger, 1 teaspoon curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss well to coat before threading the bits of meat onto the skewers.

Add extras. Of course, you can also turn standard chicken skewers into fancier kebabs by adding 2-inch slices of corn on the cob, thick zucchini rings, cherry tomatoes and onion quarters to those skewers.

Then what? Get a grill set up for direct high-heat cooking or lightly spray a nonstick grill pan with nonstick spray and set it over medium-high heat.  Set the chicken pieces on their skewers on the grill grate or in the pan; cook,  turning every which way, until all sides are brown and the meat is cooked through, about 7 to 9 minutes.

Chow down! Serve the skewers with a platter of fried rice made from brown rice and lots of veggies. Or set the skewers over shaved cucumber tossed with seasoned rice vinegar.

Did You Know…?

In the barnyard, a chicken has one breast — that is, the rounded mound of muscle under the neck and over the legs. But each chicken has two breasts at the supermarket, since that breast is divided in half by the butcher, the two lobes of meat on either side of the breast bone then separated for sale. So for perfect accuracy, we should say boneless, skinless, chicken-breast halves.

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