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How to cook succulent and tender chicken breasts

Sam's picture

I came across this wonderful technique for cooking moist and tender chicken breasts. It is from the old book "Joy of Cooking". I don't own the book, but I saw a reference for this technique on the internet, and would like to share my experience here so others can benefit.

If your chicken breasts come out dry or chewy, try this out. I have tried this and it works great giving excellent results, all the time. Essentially a fool proof method.

What you need:
1 to 4 Boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt
Pepper
Italian Seasoning or your favorite herbs (optional)
All purpose flour (optional)
Oil
Pan with lid
Timer

Instructions:
1. Pound the chicken breasts to even thickness with the flat side of a large knife or mallet. If the breasts are big and very thick, you can also cut them in two halves to reduce the thickness.
2. Sprinkle some salt, pepper, and your favorite seasoning or herbs (optional) onto the breasts. You can also mix the spices or herbs with all purpose flour and lightly drench the chicken with this mixture.
3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan on medium high flame. When the pan is hot, place the chicken breasts into the pan. Set your timer for 1 minute, and cook the underside for about 1 minute. This will give a golden color to the chicken on one side. Do not go over 1 minute as we do not want to really brown the chicken.
4. Turn the chicken on the other side, and immediately cover the pan with a lid. Reduce the flame/heat to low. Set your timer for 10 minutes, and keep the pan covered for 10 minutes. Do not disturb the lid or open it. Just let the chicken cook in the covered pan.
5. After 10 minutes are done, turn off the flame/heat completely. Let the chicken breasts rest for further 10 minutes, keeping the pan covered. Do not disturb the lid or open it. This allows further cooking of chicken in the steam, and the juices to settle down within the meat.
6. Now open the lid and chicken for readiness. It will be tender, moist and nicely done. Cut it in small pieces for topping a salad, or use it as a main course with veggies.

That's it. Enjoy. :)

Sam's picture

Correction:
Step 6 should read: Now open the lid and check the chicken for readiness.

Sam's picture

I am overjoyed by this technique. I hope it's ok that I posted it here. I want to thank the Joy family for coming up with this. If there are more tips, please do share.

meg's picture

Thanks, Sam! This is a great way to cook chicken quickly, and it gives the chicken breasts a nice golden exterior. Have you ever tried spatchcocking a whole chicken? Basically, you cut the backbone out of a chicken and flatten it. Roasting it this way allows the meat to cook evenly and much more quickly. We almost always do a high-heat roast (425F), which browns the skin.
Also, try salting a whole chicken a day before you cook it. Leave it uncovered in the fridge. This dries out the skin, rendering it crispy when you cook it. So simple and delicious.
Please let us know if you have any more helpful tips to share.

Michelle Wilson's picture

Would you be able to use this method for making a curry?

meg's picture

Hi Michelle,
I don't see why not. However, to avoid overcooking the chicken, I might just brown the meat in a hot pan, then cut it up and finish cooking it in the curry sauce.

Your mom's picture

No you never need to "pound meat" in order to make it tender, the cooking should make it tender not the "pounding" that's just gross and 1970's ish

meg's picture

Pounding meat does help to tenderize it. It's called mechanical tenderization. But really, the principal reason we tenderize meat (by "we" I mean in our household) is to get the meat to a uniform thickness for cooking--this is especially helpful when making, say, stuffed chicken breasts. And it's not really a 1970s thing either--pounding meat has been around for much longer than that. And there's nothing inherently "gross" about it. It simply makes the meat flatter. You're not pounding the meat into a pulp or anything.

Jim Kirkwood's picture

To pound chicken breasts to uniform thickness for uniform cooking I use a white rubber mallet from the auto store reserved for this purpose. It's safer, wider and heavier than a glass and you use less force. This gives more control and less mangling. You can cover the breast with plastic film or put the mallet head in a bag if you're squeamish about the auto store rubber.

Joseph Vernice's picture

Cooking (poultry) cannot always guarantee a tender result, especially if the meat is tough to start with. Pounding breaks down the tertiary structure of the proteins thereby separating the muscle strands. For the best tenderizing, pound with only moderate stress for a longer period of time rather than aggressively for a shorter period of time. The 1970's-ish comment was really uncalled for and is scientifically unjustified.

Nancy's picture

I put the chicken breast in a Ziploc bag and pound, no mess.

Teri's picture

The reason you pound the breasts is not to tenderize, but to create meat that has an even depth, that way it will cook evenly.

Stephanie's picture

This actually worked, I've substituting boneless chicken thighs for breast for years because of the taste of chicken breast. Well not anymore. Thanks so much for the best tip ever!!!

Yolanda 's picture

OMG, this was the best chicken breast I've ever had. It was tender and my husband enjoyed it very much. I will surely prepare this chicken again & again. He actually eat two pieces. Thank you very much.

Aimee's picture

Holy wow. Best pan-sautéed chicken ever. Restaurant quality. Thank you for sharing!

Sweetie Darling's picture

For step 5, after you turn off the heat, should we remove the pan from the stove (placing it on a trivet) or does it matter?

meg's picture

I would remove the pan from the heat if you have an electric stove. If you have a gas or induction cooktop, you can just leave the pan on the stove.

Jen's picture

After 30 years of cooking, I can finally make tender chicken! Thank you!!!

Cathy's picture

It was the best chicken I've ever made for sure!!!!

Krystina's picture

Hi, I'm going to try this tomorrow eve when I make chicken and bacon pasta. Would you recommend cooking the chicken fully and the just adding it to the pasta, fried bacon strips and sauce? Or cooking it partly with your method and then frying it with the bacon and garlic?
Thanks xx

meg's picture

I would recommend cooking the chicken fully and then adding it to the pasta and tossing it. Sounds delicious!

Soda's picture

What if the chicken is not quite ready? How do you retain the moisture but heat it for a few more minutes?

meg's picture

I would say put the lid back on and continue cooking. I don't think you need to worry too much about the chicken being dry if it's still underdone when you check it. It's overcooking that willy dry out chicken.

pamelajune's picture

All my frypans and cooking pans with lids have a small vent hole for letting steam out. In your comments you say no opening and peaking I assume to keep all the moisture in. Should I try and block the hole or am I taking your method too literally and the small steam release hole will be ok?

meg's picture

I wouldn't worry about it. The small amount of steam let out by the little hole shouldn't affect the cooking.

Lisa the Vegan's picture

I'm a vegan and haven't cooked meat for five years; now I'm in a relationship with a bodybuilder who insists on lots of meat. I love cooking, so I don't mind at all! Anywho, here's the thing: I've cooked yard bird for him several times recently and he swears its dry as a powder factory. I've brined a super thick breast since yesterday, so tonight I'm putting this method to the test . . . stay tuned . . . hopefully, I'll have a favorable report tomorrow!

Lisa, the one-and-only meat-cookin' vegan! ;o)

Dennis's picture

This method is great for cooking numerous meats such as pork chops, sausage, etc., the only difference is after the 1 min. sear I flip it for another min. sear on med. heat then add a cup of water & place the lid on low heat until water is gone. Takes awhile but patience is worth it. A see thru lid is handy as well.

akhil's picture

when i close the lid for 10 minutes i am getting rubbery,chewy chicken.what do you suggest i do?

Kaz's picture

Thank you for this awesome recipe! I've never cooked such juicy tender chicken before! It was delicious!

Joy B's picture

I followed the instructions but the resulting breasts were white and looked like they'd been pouched. Not very attractive for the table. I heated a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on high and quickly browned each side. Probably only a minute per side but it was enough to add some golden brown. I used tongs instead of fork so as not to pierce the meat. Was still tasty and juicy when served.

john's picture

Yes Joy! Thank you for saying that! One of our users submitted this post, and all we could think is "this sounds boring." The method you describe is the one we prefer (and the one we have in the cookbook). Of course, making a pan sauce after the chicken has been cooked with a little diced shallot/onion, white wine, lemon juice, butter, and fresh herbs doesn't hurt either!

Cece's picture

I too must thank you for sharing this recipe! We had baked chicken breasts last week and it was so dry I couldn't swallow after my second bite! So when hubby hinted about chicken breasts for dinner again tonight I cringed. Your recipe was SO EASY and really quick to prepare. My chicken came out tender, juicy and was delicious! This has literally changed my life when it comes to cooking chicken breasts! I can't thank you enough!

David K Gravely's picture

Amazing, the best chicken I have ever had!!! So juicy and tender. I made this method and my family absolutely loved it. I will use this method over and over when preparing boneless breasts. Thank you for this amazing technique.

Mel's picture

Perfect, I ♡♡♡♡ it. I used this method yesterday and wow, wow the chicken breast was sooo tender and juicey. I usually tend to stay away from cooking chicken breast but now with this method I will be cooking it more often.

Thank you for sharing.

Shari's picture

This is an amazing recipe! I did not pound the meat, because i just didn't feel like it. I sliced the breasts so that they were all about the same size. I used a spice rub that my hubby uses on fish, because that was available. Can you tell that i was in a hurry? Other than that i followed the directions and it was PERFECT! This a keeper. I plan to experiment with the spices in the future, the near future. So good and so easy!

John Hughes's picture

Could a similar method be used for turkey breasts?

meg's picture

Might be worth a shot. My only concern is that turkey breasts are so much larger you'd have to pound them quite a bit to get them uniform. They will also be more likely to overcook on the outside before they're done cooking all the way through.

rn995's picture

I cannot believe it....I finally find a way to make juicy chicken breast and it's easy. Thank you for the recipe! Really works.

Phyllis's picture

This is the best I ever made. Thanks for the tip, it is really moist and tender. I will cook my breast like this from now on!

Oli's picture

Blimey. That is unbelievably succulent.

Mary Baskin's picture

I found your recipe the other night and I am so Glad that I did. I tried it out on today and I MUST say that I Successfully MASTERED cooking a moist delicious chicken breast. I will Most Definitely use the procedure again. Thanks. I didn't have any Italian dressing so being a lover of Ranch I used that instead.

Jane 's picture

I have always hated cooking chicken breast because of their tendency to dry out, but this technique has opened up a whole new world for me. Thank you so much for sharing this. I wish I had known of it 30 years ago. My husband also loves the techniques very much and was a cook in a restaurant for 15 years.

Marya's picture

Thank you so much for sharing this! I made chicken breast tenders using this recipe to toss with pasta and vodka sauce: it came out so delicious. This is my new method for cooking chicken!

sharkblood's picture

DONT LOOK FURTHER PEOPLE, THIS IS IT

Connie Acevedo's picture

This is a keeper. I used a turkey rub mixed in the flower, I used large thick breasts and they came out super moist.

Michelle Hall's picture

I've been cooking for 30 years and this is by far the best method of cooking a chicken breast! I will never prepare any other way! Thank you!

MN's picture

How does this approach work if you need the outside to be crispy? How to crisp and essentially steam at the same time.

john's picture

Despite this thread being on our site for years, I think this is the first time I've ever weighed in. Your best bet for crispy chicken breasts is to season them with salt and pepper and sauté or panfry them in oil over medium-high heat. If you flatten them like this gentlemen recommends, it should take about 4 minutes a side. To make doubly sure that you don't overcook them, measure their temperature with a digital thermometer and pull them out of the pan when they have reached 150F.

Another option that's a little closer to your desire for a "steamed/crispy" method is to cook them with an immersion circulator, or "sous vide"--that requires an investment, but it's basically foolproof, since you just dial in the internal temperature you want. Afterward, you can chill the cooked breasts slightly and then blast them in a very hot oiled pan for a minute a side (this reheats them as well).

PS: In my opinion, the secret to tender, juicy chicken is choosing thighs instead. They have more flavor and are very forgiving. Kind of a non-answer, but definitely effective, especially if you're after crisp, brown crust (you can build as much browned crust as you want without having to worry about the inside drying out).

Barbara Zarcone's picture

thank you for the helpful information.. !! I agree.. thigh are tasty and more forgiving

Loretta's picture

I'm always worried that the chicken isn't cooked all the way through, how do you know? I always end up overcooking it bcuz of this. Isn't it best to take the temperature? If so what temp should it be?

john's picture

That's definitely the most important "trick" to getting succulent and tender chicken, not this method--posted years ago by a site visitor. They can be succulent and tasty when grilled, roasted, or poached... just cook them so that the temperature rises to 165F--no more. This means pulling them off the heat at about 160F and letting them rest for 5 minutes. Seriously, that's it. No tricks. Problem solved.

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