Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sear-Roasted Chicken Breast

When I was grocery shopping two weeks ago, I came across a large package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts that were only $1.99/lb. This was cheaper than my beloved chicken thighs. I hemmed and hawed, having avoided these pale, flavorless pieces of white meat for years and years. Then I said, screw it, they're freaking cheap.

I'm glad that I did. After two weeks, I've realized why everyone loves this culinary chameleon. I've put it on salads, of course. I've eaten these on sandwiches, in tacos, over rice, on pizza and straight out of the refrigerator. And the best part, I've cooked them almost exactly the same way every freaking time. It's so easy!
Ce n'est pas un blanc de poulet.
This is not a chicken breast. This is part of a chicken breast. Cheap-o grocery store chicken breasts are generally gigantic. Also, they tend to be lopsided, being crazy thick at one end and skinny at the other. When I got mine home, I sliced each one diagonally so each one was turned into a round, fat hunk of chicken and a thinner, flatter tail piece (shown above). If you're using these instructions to cook a fatter piece, just leave it in the oven an extra 2-4 minutes and check the center of it before gobbling it up.

Turn your oven on to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. (Or in my case, 405 because my oven thermometer tells me that my oven always falls just a little bit short).

This is where I change it up every time I cook a piece of chicken. Variety is the spice of life, my friends. This time around, I simply seasoned it with salt and fresh ground black pepper. (You'll see why soon enough.)
Some other things I have done or might do in the future:
  • Season with salt and a healthy dose of cumin and paprika (this is particularly tasty if you want to use it in something mexican/latin/spanish, like tacos).
  • Marinate for an hour or twelve in italian dressing or a simple vinaigrette. (I particularly like this for sandwiches and salads).
  • Dip in egg, then breadcrumbs, pressing the breadcrumbs onto the chicken to make a nice crust.
  • Pick your favorite spice or spices and go to town, it's hard to screw this up.
  • IF you insist on dredging the chicken in flour, be aware that you're probably going to create a good amount of smoke in your kitchen, so you might want to open a window or turn on a fan... or both.
Now, let an oven-friendly skillet heat up over medium to medium-high heat with 1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil. (For once, we're not going to use the pan drippings for some kind of sauce, so there's no need to use some expensive or fancy oil.) Once the oil is shimmering, lay your seasoned chicken breast in the pan.

Note: Let the damn pan heat up first. I am so terribly impatient at this point. I've actually taken to giving myself tasks to do before I'm allowed to put anything in the pan other than the oil. Set a timer for 2 full minutes if you have to (sometimes I have to). 
Let that chicken cook away for 4-5 minutes, undisturbed. I generally do 4 minutes for a thinner piece and 5 minutes for a thicker one. However, it's not going to ruin anything if you just do 5 minutes every time. When the time's up... yeah, turn it over.
Oh yes, looks tasty already.

Now, if your pan is oven-safe, it's probably fairly heavy. So it's fairly safe to assume that the pan has gotten hotter in the five minutes it's taken to cook the first side of that chicken. This is why you only need to cook the second side for 3 minutes to get the same lovely color. Go ahead and flip the chicken again so you can enjoy that purty little thang.

Remember how I only used salt and pepper on this piece? That's because my plan for this piece of chicken was a BBQ chicken sandwich. For all my other pieces of chicken, I omitted this step altogether. You don't need to substitute anything or do anything wacky.

Slather one side of your chicken with your favorite BBQ sauce.

There, now we can get back to the generic chicken recipe. Pop the pan into your oven for 6 minutes. Flip the chicken over (and slather the other side with BBQ sauce, if that's what you want) and put it back into the oven for another 6 minutes.
Finally, pull the whole thing out of the oven, set the chicken aside and cover it with a piece of aluminum foil.

Use this time to wash your dishes. Seriously, that pan will take all of 30 seconds to clean if you do it right after it comes out of the oven. If you do it 3+ hours later, it will be significantly harder. Jab yourself with a safety pin until you clean that pan. 

I'm not kidding. 

It's so tempting to just throw it in the sink, maybe even run some water over it and just let it sit there until after dinner... or tomorrow morning... or your next day off. I have this conversation with myself EVERY time and have finally reached an age and, dare I say, a maturity level where I can usually talk myself into washing the damn thing right away.

Wash it.

Once you've gotten things cleaned up (that stove could use a quick wipe-down while you're at it, but if you're all washed out after the pan, feel free to stop there) it's time to get into that chicken.

Yes, you can eat that bad boy just the way it is with some steamed vegetables and you've got a delightful little Atkins-friendly meal right there. I'm tempted to do this when I'm feeling grumpy or tired or both.
However, this time I sliced my chicken and threw it on some toast with a couple slices of cheddar cheese, lettuce and a little extra BBQ sauce.
And even after all that, I still have some leftover chicken! (go back three pictures, see that chunk on the left... it didn't make it onto the sandwich). This will get chopped up and thrown on a salad, or pizza, or mixed with some mayo and turned into a little chicken salad sandwich for one. Or, most likely, it will be eaten directly out of the refrigerator about an hour before dinner. It's a great snack.

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