PAN-SEARED CHICKEN BREASTS

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: A boneless, skinless chicken breast doesn’t have the bone and skin to protect it from the intensity of a hot pan. Inevitably, it emerges moist in the middle and dry at the edges, with an exterior that’s leathery and tough. We wanted a boneless, skinless chicken breast that was every bit as flavorful, moist, and tender as its skin-on counterpart.

We decided to utilize a technique that we’ve used successfully in the test kitchen with thick-cut steaks, where we gently parcook the meat in the oven and then sear it on the stovetop. First, we salted the chicken to help it retain more moisture as it cooked. To expedite the process we poked holes in the breasts, creating channels for the salt to reach the interior of the chicken as it parcooked. We then placed the breasts in a baking dish and covered it tightly with foil. In this enclosed environment, any moisture released by the chicken stayed trapped under the foil, keeping the exterior from drying out without becoming so overly wet that it couldn’t brown quickly.

The next step was figuring out how to achieve a crisp, even crust on our parcooked breasts. We turned to a Chinese cooking technique called velveting, in which meat is dipped in a mixture of oil and cornstarch to create a thin protective layer that keeps the protein moist and tender, even when exposed to ultra-high heat. We replaced the oil with butter (for flavor) and mixed flour in with the cornstarch to avoid any pasty flavor. The coating helped the chicken make better contact with the hot skillet, creating a thin, browned, crisp veneer that kept the breast’s exterior as moist as the interior.

SERVES 4

For the best results, buy similarly sized chicken breasts. If your breasts have the tenderloin attached, leave it in place and follow the upper range of baking time in step 1. For optimal texture, sear the chicken immediately after removing it from the oven.

4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed (see note)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 recipe Lemon and Chive Pan Sauce (optional)

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 275 degrees. Use a fork to poke the thickest half of each breast five to six times, then sprinkle each breast with ¼ teaspoon salt. Place the chicken, skinned side down, in a 13 by 9-inch baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake until the chicken registers 145 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 30 to 40 minutes.

2. Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer, skinned side up, to a paper towel–lined plate and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. While the pan is heating, whisk the butter, flour, cornstarch, and pepper together in a small bowl. Lightly brush the tops of the chicken with half of the butter mixture. Place the chicken in the skillet, coated side down, and cook until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. While the chicken browns, brush the second side with the remaining butter mixture. Using tongs, flip the chicken, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the second side is browned and the chicken registers 160 to 165 degrees, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter and let rest while preparing the pan sauce (if not making the pan sauce, let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving).

Lemon and Chive Pan Sauce

MAKES ABOUT ¾ CUP

1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, chilled
Table salt and ground black pepper

Add the shallot to the empty skillet and cook over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add the broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, scraping the pan bottom to loosen the browned bits. Simmer rapidly until reduced to ¾ cup, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in any accumulated chicken juices, return to a simmer, and cook for 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the lemon juice, chives, and butter; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.

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