I used to have a love-hate relationship with boneless, skinless chicken breast. On the love side, it's a lean, healthy protein with only 142 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving. And it cooks relatively quickly so it's great for a weeknight meal. On the hate side, its flavor is so mild and it always seemed to be dried out from being overcooked. But all that changed when I took a moment to think about how I could make chicken breast taste better and I got creative. Now when I cook chicken breast, it's tender, juicy and packed with flavor.
Here are my tips on how to cook the perfect, juicy chicken breast and recipes to get you started:
Tip 1) Stuff It
It's easy to throw sauce or ingredients on top of a chicken breast, but it's just as easy to stuff one. Plus stuffing a chicken breast is a great way to keep it moist and flavorful. All you need is a sharp knife to cut a slit almost through the breast to form a little "pocket" for stuffing. I love to stuff chicken breast with cheese and veggies like in our recipe for Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Pimiento Cheese. Gouda adds richness and the pimentos and scallion add moisture and a savory flavor.
Get the Recipe: Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Pimiento Cheese and More Chicken Dinners for 350 Calories or Less
Tip 2) For Tender Chicken, Slice Across the Grain
How you cut a chicken breast before and after cooking can affect the texture. In a chicken breast, it's best to cut it "against the grain," or crosswise. This breaks up the muscle fibers, making it more tender. And if you cut it into thin strips before cooking, it also prevents the pieces from shrinking up.
Recipes to Try: Indian-Spiced Chicken Pitas and More Simple Chicken Dinners
Tip 3) Cook Evenly By Cutting Bigger Breasts in Half
Chicken breasts run pretty big these days-sometimes weighing in at over 1 pound! And since they're so big, it can be tricky to cook them evenly. I like to cut them in half "on the bias" into 2 even pieces. "On the bias" is a fancy way of saying diagonally. Cutting them this way gets you two similar-size portions that will cook at about the same rate.
Recipes to Try: Quick Chicken Cacciatore and More Italian Favorites Made Healthy
Tip 4) For Tender Even Pieces of Chicken, Pound It
Pounding meat into thinner pieces tenderizes it by breaking apart the muscle fibers. Chicken breast is already pretty tender without pounding, but pounding does help get it into an even piece of meat that is easy to cook quickly. You don't need any fancy equipment to pound your chicken breast thin. I just put it between two pieces of plastic wrap and use a small saucepan to give it a few good whacks. After I pound chicken breast, I like to give it a crispy coating of breadcrumbs or cornmeal. It not only tastes good, but helps lock in moisture.
Recipes to Try: Cornmeal-Crusted Chicken Breast with Pepian Sauce and More Healthy Chicken Breast Recipes
Tip 5) Smother Chicken Breasts in a Creamy Sauce
Another way to add some zest to your chicken breast is to smother it in a creamy sauce. Not only does it taste delicious, but it's a great way to keep it moist. Even if you do overcook it a little, smothering a chicken breast in a velvety sauce can hide your mistake. I like to make the sauce after the chicken has finished cooking. I just take the breasts out of the pan and make my sauce in the same pan. It picks up the flavor of the chicken and saves me from washing an extra pot. When the sauce is done, the chicken goes back to the pan to sit in the sauce a little bit and let the flavors meld. Delicious!
What's your favorite way to cook chicken breast?
EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.
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