Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts

Published March 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.

Why this recipe works:

For a chicken breast recipe with flavorful, moist, and tender meat, we gently parcooked boneless, skinless breasts in the oven, then seared them on the stovetop. Salting the chicken breasts helped keep them moist, as did cooking them covered in the oven. To get a crisp, even crust for our… read more

For a chicken breast recipe with flavorful, moist, and tender meat, we gently parcooked boneless, skinless breasts in the oven, then seared them on the stovetop. Salting the chicken breasts helped keep them moist, as did cooking them covered in the oven. To get a crisp, even crust for our chicken breast recipe, and to keep the meat moist and tender, we turned to a Chinese technique called velveting, dipping the partially cooked chicken in a protective coating of oil and cornstarch.

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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.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees. Using fork, poke thickest half of each breast 5 to 6 times; evenly sprinkle each breast with ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or ¼ teaspoon table salt). Place chicken, skinned side down, in 13 by 9-inch baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake until thickest part of breast registers 145 to 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 30 to 40 minutes.

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

Step-by-Step

Flour and Cornstarch Coating

To end up with moist exteriors, our pan-seared boneless, skinless breasts needed light protection. But slurries made with melted butter and the usual suspects—cornstarch and flour—each had issues. Cornstarch is a pure starch prone to forming a gel that left pasty spots on the meat. The proteins in flour, on the other hand, link together to form gluten, leading to an overly tough, bready coating. Using a combination of cornstarch and flour, however, created the perfect light, crisp, evenly browned coating.

The explanation is simple: Each ingredient tempers the effect of the other. With flour in the mix, the cornstarch is sufficiently diluted by protein to prevent it from forming a paste, whereas the protein is diluted enough that it doesn’t cause the crust to become bready.

Step-by-Step

A Better Way to Cook Boneless Chicken Breasts

1. POKE AND SALT

Salting chicken seasons meat and keeps it moist. Poking the thicker part of the breasts ensures even seasoning.

2. COVER AND BAKE

Baking at low temperature in a foil-covered dish cooks chicken evenly and keeps the exterior from drying out.

3. BRUSH ON COATING

Brushing butter, flour, and cornstarch onto breasts created "skin" to protect meat during searing.

4. SEAR QUICKLY

Briefly searing parcooked coated breasts keeps them moist and creates crisp exteriors.

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