We need to have a serious conversation about this. I only want to help you. I also get a lot of emails from Feel the Burn-ers asking me how to cook meat, because I eat a ton of meat, and seem like someone who knows how to cook it (you are correct).
First up, if you are a vegan or a vegetarian, you already do not buy boneless skinless chicken breasts, so this does not apply to you and I salute your commitment to living in accordance with your ethical beliefs.
Second, you may want to chime in here about how people should buy chicken THIGHS instead, which is probably correct, but we’re trying to encourage small changes, so let’s table that conversation.
Guys, boneless skinless chicken breasts are the worst, and I’m going to devote a lot of time and energy to explaining why. Let us begin.
I. They Cost More Than the Kind Which Come With Skin and Bones
For a certain percentage of you, this polemic might as well start and end here. Big Chicken charges you for the privilege of removing the skin and bones from your chicken, even when you calculate the small bump in poundage represented by the weight of the bones. This is nonsense! Why is this nonsense?
II. Chicken Skin Is Delicious
I will not pretend that raw chicken skin holds any appeal. It looks disgusting, and it reminds you that chickens have skin, which may also remind you that chickens have a variety of other things, like the ability to experience pain and fear. Not to get all cheesy on you here, but if I were a chicken, I would prefer that you eat my skin rather than have it extracted from my corpse in a factory and tossed out or made into a slurry to be fed to my compatriots.
But I have come to praise chicken skin, and not to bury it. Correctly prepared (i.e. pan-seared or roasted), that same gross skin becomes a crackling marvel of fat and umami perfection. When I roast a chicken, or pay the exceptionally reasonable price to acquire a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, I immediately gobble the crispy skin parts first, and then grudgingly turn to the meat. Which is still delicious.
III. Cooking Them With the Skin On Helps With Moisture and Flavor
We can talk about brining and all that jazz until the cows come home (go ahead, knock yourself out), but the easiest way to keep your chicken from being a dry, boring disaster is to allow nature’s own protective surface to keep the meat tender and juicy. The fat migrates into the meat, filling it with delicious goodness.
IV. The Skin Creates a Little Pocket You Can Shove Cheese and Butter and Herbs and Pine Nuts Into
TRUE STORY. We’ll get more into this part tomorrow, when I provide you with a perfect recipe for real chicken breasts, but the [Ni]Cole’s Notes version is to take them out of the fridge for about 20 minutes to take the chill off, then tug the skin away from the meat so you’ve got a little cave, and then stuff things into it. You can always slice chicken in half to stuff it, but that’s a pain and it winds up being way thicker on one end, and this is exactly enough space for a glob of softened butter, some grated cheese of your choosing, some leftover sauteed spinach from last night, and maybe a scoop of the aforementioned pine nuts, which are easier to afford now that you’re saving money on your chicken breasts. Each bite of the chicken will change your life.
I’m not your mom. If you don’t like the skin, cook it with the skin on anyway, so the meat attains the juiciness and flavor mentioned above, then wait until the breasts cool and yank it off and throw it in the trash or feed it to your dog. Don’t give me any shit about feeding dogs chicken skin, ours lived to be sixteen (which is bananas for a sixty pound dog) and ate chicken skin on the daily. Look how shiny his coat was, and he was twelve in this picture. Your dog may have digestive issues that forbid this, make your own choices and consult your vet. Also, the skin is way easier to remove after it’s been cooked.
RIP, Denali. You were so loved, and I have no legitimate answer as to why I would have cheerfully killed a human I’ve never met to give you eternal life, yet eat many chickens a year.
VI. Wait Until Tomorrow and I Will Explain Exactly What To Do With Your Real Chicken Breasts
Stay tuned for more. You shan’t regret it.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.