Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Technique Tuesdays: Don't be Chicken! It's Easy!

Chicken is one of those food items that is truly a vehicle for so many different flavors. You can prepare chicken in a million different ways, using all different parts of the bird. Great for casual meals as well as for simple suppers or delicious leftovers, chicken is wonderful! I haven't always felt this way though... my early chicken eating days were pretty disappointing. The meat was always dry, particularly when using boneless, skinless breasts. After making a few adjustments to my chicken preparation, I now proudly serve it at least twice a week. Knowing how to prepare delicious chicken recipes just takes a few simple techniques. By following the tips below, you'll have endless dinner possibilities at your fingertips!

1. Brine your chicken
Soaking your chicken (whether it be breasts, a whole chicken, legs, etc.) in heavily salted water (I'm talking 1/4 cup Kosher salt to 4-6 cups water) for 15 minutes to several hours makes a world of difference in the flavor of your chicken. You'll be amazed at how flavorful and juicy your chicken is when you take this simple step. The chicken is seasoned well throughout and is anything but dry.

2. Use flavorful marinades
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are like a blank canvas. They are wonderful on the grill, in the pan or in the oven. You can do so much with simple marinades; it'll make you feel like you're eating something totally different every time you eat chicken. A classic technique for marinating chicken pairs an acid with oil. For example, my husband's favorite chicken sandwiches have chicken marinated in lime juice, oil, cumin and chipotle in adobo (search this recipe in the sidebar) while my favorite marinade combines balsamic vinegar, oil, dijon mustard and garlic (search for my vinaigrette recipe in the sidebar). Marinate for 15 minutes or 4 hours for a more intense flavor. You just have to remember this technique and the possibilities are neverending!

3. Be observant of cooking times
Overcooked chicken STINKS. Keep in mind that, once you remove your chicken from the grill or pan, it will continue to cook for a few more minutes. When chicken is done, the juices should run clear. For a leaner chicken, like a boneless, skinless breast, the cooking time will be shorter than for dark meat or legs.

4. Season your chicken well
I went on and on about the importance of salt in a previous Technique Tuesday post, so I'll keep it short. Make sure you season your chicken well with salt and pepper (I stick with a 3:1 ratio of salt and pepper, respectively). Don't think that because you are using a sauce, you will not need to season. The trick is to season at each level: in a marinade, on the meat itself, and in any sauce.

5. Get a good sear on your breasts
Start over higher heat, then reduce. You will seal in the flavor by getting a good sear on your chicken, whether you use a grill or a pan. My favorite indoor technique for chicken and chops is to get a good sear going (by cooking the meat on med-high to high and not moving it until it comes away from the pan easily) then finish them off in the oven.

6. Let it rest
I've said this in other posts, but there's nothing more important than letting meat rest before you cut into it. Give it 5-10 minutes before cutting, and every bite will be flavorful. If you cut it right off the heat, your first bite will be delicious, but all the juices will run out, leaving you with bone dry meat.

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