You’re rolling by the meat department and that beacon goes off in your head, beep-beep-beep, “must… get… chicken… breasts…. healthy.” And you put them in your cart. So far you feel good. You’re being healthy, right? But then you take them home and two things are likely to happen; They go funky in the fridge and end up in the garbage, or you overcook them and no one wants to eat them. In either case, they are likely to end up going to waste.
I’m going to give you some ideas and pointers that will make your chicken breasts soar to the top of your weekly menu.
Not all chicken breasts are created equal. If I asked you to pick out the healthiest thing in the meat department, you would probably come up with a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. And while you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, there are some differences that you may want to pay attention to.
You are likely to find chicken breasts from different manufacturers. Some are organic, others are air-chilled, some are all-natural, and the rest are from what I call “lab-chickens”. If your primary reason for eating chicken breast is health, then read on.
Lab Chickens, and ordinary chicken meat products come from chickens raised in factory-like farms. They are genetically manipulated and have likely been fed a diet high in antibiotics, and growth hormones. It takes a natural chicken about 80 days to reach full size, but major chicken growers have got it down to about 45 days to reach 5 pounds! Just think, if your newborn baby grew this fast, he’d be 350 pounds by the age of 2. And if you don’t think these hormones affect humans, just take a look around. I try not to feed my family or my customers chicken that was grown with antibiotics, hormones or genetic manipulation (what they call selective breeding).
All Natural doesn’t really mean anything. Like I’ve said before in several other articles, “natural” is a marketing word to make you feel that you’re buying something that is good for you. Snake venom, cyanide, opium, and cow manure are all natural too. You can ignore the “natural” and read the package to make sure the chicken was not fed drugs, hormones or antibiotics.
Organic, free-range, and chemical-free chicken is the way to go, in my opinion. Aside from the chemical factor, I find the meat to be softer, tastier, and more moist than that of regular chicken. And you don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts for good meat. I buy Murray’s brand chicken which is priced pretty competitively with regular chicken. But most important to me is the quality of the meat, which I am very happy with.
How to buy it. Chicken breasts come with skin-on, skin-off, and skin-on with bone. Don’t buy the ones with the bone, unless you want to practice your butchery skills and throw out half the package weight in skin and bone. Your choice comes down to skin on, or skin off. Just keep in mind that the reason chicken breast meat tends to dry out is because it has no fat. The skin has fat. So when you’re cooking it, the fat from the skin will baste the breast, add some flavor and lubricate the meat. And you can always discard the skin before serving, unless you’re like me and prize crispy chicken skin as a superlative snack! But you can still take skinless chicken breasts and make them juicy too.
How to cook it without burning or drying it out? Yes, the reason you started to read this article! Below are five quick ways to cook chicken breasts like a champ! But before I get to that, let me give you two quick tips on cooking:
1) Thick breasts don’t always cook evenly, and so you end up overcooking them or serving them raw-ish. To avoid this, you want to make the meat thinner by butterflying them with a chef knife. Cut the breast in half horizontally, opening it up like a book, or cutting it into two thinner pieces.
2) Almost everyone of my cooking class students asks me, “How do I know if the chicken is done.” My answer – The color is opaque, and if you poke the meat, it burns your finger. If the meat is hot enough to burn your finger, it’s done. Also, the juices run clear, not red or pink. But this only works if you butterfly it, pound it, or get it thin before you start cooking it (about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thin).
Quick Chicken Breast Recipes
1. (GRILL) Sprinkle the breasts with Adobo seasoning. Grill on both sides. Brush them heavily with chimichurri towards the end and before serving. Chimichurri – stick the following in a food processor and blend – 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 a chopped red bell pepper, salt, pepper, a little thyme, parsley and oregano (fresh is best, but dry if you don’t have fresh).
2. (SKILLET) Cook a diced onion with a dozen sliced mushrooms and a little olive oil until the onion is translucent (7-10 mins). Add 1 tsp of dijon mustard, salt, pepper, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 tsp of curry powder and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Add 4 chicken breast. Put lid over skillet and simmer/steam until chicken is cooked through. Serve over rice, potatoes or steamed cauliflower.
3. (OVEN) Oven-frying is easy and healthy! Sprinkle the meat with Adobo seasoning, dredge your breast in flour, then dredge through a bowl with a couple of scrambled raw eggs, then dredge through a bowl of Italian bread crumbs. Put them on a baking sheet with non-stick aluminum foil. Spray both sides with some cooking spray and bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes. When in doubt, make a little slice into the chicken and stick your finger in it. If it’s opaque, clear juices and burns your finger, it’s done!
4. (SKILLET) This one goes great over angel-hair pasta! Dice an onion, cook it until translucent with a little olive oil. Add two diced tomatoes, 3 cloves of minced garlic, a few olives of your choices, 6 capers, a little oregano and fresh basil (fresh or dry), salt and pepper. Add 2 chicken breasts and cook until the chicken is done.
5. (OVEN) (SKILLET) Oven-fry the chicken as per instructions above. While you’re doing that, put a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet and sautee two dozen cherry tomatoes, fresh chopped basil, and a handful of salted roasted cashews just until the cherry tomatoes and hot and the skins are seared. Serve on top of chicken with salt and pepper and sprinkle with clumps of goat cheese.
Do you have your own really good chicken breast recipes? If so, you can email me at [email protected] Don’t forget to check out my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/tampa.personal.chef