Cooking succulent, moist chicken breasts isn’t rocket science; the secret is don’t overcook them. A few other tricks can enhance your end result, as well. Brining is a technique of soaking meat in salted water beforehand. The salt penetrates into the meat, flavoring it and improving its ability to retain moisture. According to Dr. Estes Reynolds of the University of Georgia, brining can reduce moisture loss by as much as 15 percent. Also important is allowing the chicken to sit for a few minutes after cooking so the juices have a chance to settle.
Add kosher salt and 1 quart of water to an empty loaf pan or other similarly sized kitchen container. Place the raw chicken breasts in the brining solution and refrigerate. Allow the chicken to brine for two hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Heat a cast-iron or stainless-steel pan over high heat on the stove. Add 2 canola oil to the pan and allow it to heat up thoroughly. Meanwhile, season the boneless chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper. When the oiled pan is hot, sear each side of the breasts for 2 minutes or until you have a golden-brown crust.
Place the pan with the chicken breasts in the oven. After 10 minutes or so, stick an oven-safe thermometer in the thickest part of the breast to check for doneness. Overcooking is the most common mistake in preparing chicken and results in dry meat. Small breasts will cook more quickly than larger ones, so take them out first.
Remove the chicken from the oven when the internal temperature reads 155 F. Using tongs, place the chicken on a cutting board. The hot surface will continue to cook the insides. Let the meat sit for 10 minutes before serving. If it’s cut before the meat has a chance to settle, the juices will spill out and moisture will be lost.
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- Fine Cooking; “Why Brining Keeps Turkey and Other Meat So Moist”; Shirley Corriher
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Kitchen Thermometers: June 2011
- “Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes”; Harold McGee; 2010
- The USDA recommends cooking any poultry product to an internal temperature of 165 F. The meat will continue to cook once removed from the oven, and will rise 5 to 10 F in temperature while it sits.
- Add dried herbs to your brine or rub them directly into the chicken to enhance flavor.
- If you’re pressed for time, use a concentrated brining solution of 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 quart of water and soak for one hour.
- Brining meat for too long will dry it out and give it a salty taste.
Based in Toronto, Christine Pillman has worked as a writer and editor since 1996. She has worked for Harlequin Enterprises, "Scott's" directories and "Boards" magazine. Pillman earned an honors B.A. in English from the University of Toronto, as well as a diploma in book and magazine publishing from Centennial College.