Moist & Tender, Tried & True
Three go-to strategies for boneless, skinless chicken breast perfection.
Americans love boneless, skinless chicken breasts and for good reason. They’re perfectly adaptable to almost any cooking style and lend themselves to all kinds of recipes and flavor profiles. And yet, everyone’s experienced what should be an excellent meal in a less than desirable state. Too dry. Too tough. Too late for a do-over. Fortunately, a few simple techniques can make sure you’re enjoying moist, tender chicken every time.
The first thing to know about brining is it’s not a lengthy process. Whole birds can be brined for several hours or even overnight, but for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a couple hours are all you need. In fact, you don’t want to go longer than two or three hours because over-brining will give the chicken a rubbery texture and make it taste too salty. The basic formula for a brine is 1 tablespoon of salt and an optional 1 tablespoon of sugar (or another sweetener). You can also add herbs, garlic, wine, juice or spirits. Discard the brining solution when you’re done, and the chicken breasts are ready to be grilled, sautéed or oven-roasted.
There’s a scientific explanation for how marinades work, but there’s also an easy answer — it’s magical. Certain ingredients react with proteins and tenderize meat. Acidic substances such as citrus juice, tomatoes, vinegar or wine are one group. Enzymatic marinades are another and include kiwi, raw pineapple and figs. Dairy-based options most often involve buttermilk or yogurt. Two hours is usually more than enough time to marinate chicken. Just be sure and keep the marinade and chicken breasts in the refrigerator the entire time. This recipe for Brazilian Chicken Churrasco Skewers calls for an acidic marinade made with red wine vinegar and fresh lemon juice.
A final technique for adding moisture to boneless, skinless chicken breasts is using a glaze. Typically, glazes mix oil or butter with sweeteners such as brown sugar, honey, fruit jams or jelly. Simply brush them on halfway through grilling or roasting. You’ll get an extra layer of flavor and more moisture surrounding the meat. A good example is Apricot Ginger Chicken with Toasted Barley Pilaf. It features apricot preserves and preps in 15 minutes or less.
In all cases, it’s important to not overcook the chicken. Boneless cuts cook more evenly when they’re an even thickness, and an easy technique is flattening each piece of chicken. Use a rolling pin or the flat side of a meat mallet to pound the chicken breasts until they’re about a ½-inch thickness The first image in a photo sequence for Millennial Chicken Cordon Bleu shows the process.
Your options are endless with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and you’ll find plenty of recipes at Our Kitchen. With a little TLC, they’ll turn out moist and tender every time.