Friday, March 31, 2006

Cooking Boneless Chicken - How To Keep It From Getting "Leathery"

A frequent and common challenge....
"I eat a lot of thin sliced boneless chicken -- and often pan fry it. I tend to cook it at about a medium heat (I assume on an electric stove, a 5 out of 10 is medium). I tend to cook it at a 6+ ish. Sometimes the chicken gets kind of leathery (hard/tough) on parts of the surface. And I wouldn't say it’s the edges, with often can be thinner. I usually cook it 3-4 min on each side. But still juicy inside. Also, sometimes the kitchen gets kind of smoky -- real bad ventilation. I use a spray with my Misto sprayer of Olive Oil. Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil a wrong choice?"
First things first, extra virgin olive oil has a high burn factor - meaning it burns quickly at higher heat. So I use regular olive oil when sauteeing. When I want the flavor of extra virgin-that great salty olive taste, I add some toward the end of cooking. Same goes for sesame oil, another "high burn" oil with lots of flavor.

As for the chicken coming out tough...here are some ideas:
1. Thinly sliced chicken (I'm assuming some kind of stir fry) really only takes a few minutes at high heat to brown - maximum 2 minutes per side. Don't worry that it's not cooked through, that will happen when you add the rest of your ingredients - tender veggies like snow peas, baby spinach or asparagus tips are some examples. Onions on the other hand should be sauteed before the chicken gets added to the skillet. Once you've added the veggies, toss for a minute and add the "sauce" ingredients - wine, soy sauce, whatever and toss . All this shouldn't take longer than 5 minutes. The chicken should be cooked and juicy and the veggies tender crisp.

2. If you're planning on cooking (grill - pan or BBQ, bake, or broil) a whole boneless chicken breast, flatten the piece between two sheets of waxed paper, parchment or plastic wrap and gently flatten the larger part at the center using a wooden mallet (I use the flat side of my meat tenderizer, but a heavy skillet will do) until the breast is fairly even in thickness throughout. Depending on how big the piece is will determine how long to cook it.

Grilling & broiling (direct exposure to heat) take from 4-6 minutes per side. I start with 4, flip and after another 4, I do the "softness" test - prod it with fingers or tongs to see how it feels - soft like Jello it's not ready. If it's hard - it will probably be dry. When I think it's ready I poke the center with the tip of a sharp knife and the juice should be clear. Don't do this too often though or you'll let all the juices out before it's done.

Baking/Roasting (moist heat - usually with some kind of liquid ) for boneless, it's usually 20 minutes or so, breast in would take longer - 45 minutes. I usually bake breasts at 325F/170C - a medium heat. Check here for my temperature chart

If there's anyone out there with other ideas, please share them in the comments.

Please email me any of your questions, and if I don't have the answer, I'll certainly try find it for you.
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