So, yesterday we covered why boneless skinless chicken breasts are a boring, dry, overpriced nightmare. Today, we’re going to talk about a nice, relaxing, date-night way to cook chicken breasts that have NOT been pruned of their delicious fatty essence, and it’ll be great. I’ll share some more mindless recipes for whole chicken breasts over the next few weeks, this is just my favourite kind of dinner for two (apart from homemade cheeseburgers and sweet potato fries, and Scallop Night in America.)
Buy a chicken breast with skin on it per person you want to serve. Let’s start with just you and a friend, though, while you get used to it (different strokes for different stoves, my friend.)
For this, I’d dig it if you got a cast-iron pan. They’re cheap, they cannot be destroyed by any human weapon, and they last for literally centuries. Here, buy this one. It’s pre-seasoned, I have four of them in different sizes, including the dutch oven and an itty-bitty adorable one I just use for cornbread. Never throw out another stupid scratched nonstick pan that Mallory used a metal whisk in. The other thing I can 100% uncategorically recommend for everyone is a meat thermometer. Meat thermometers are cheap, and they have thousands of uses (I mean, all of them involve measuring a temperature, to be fair, though some could be used to stab someone? I digress.) Did you know you can use one to tell when homemade bread is done? Sometimes, if you’re using a loaf pan, it’s a pain to take it out and thump the bottom and pop it back in, but if the thermometer says the inside of the bread is 200 degrees, you can pull that sucker out of the oven.
Now, the chicken breasts.
2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
2 TB butter (unsalted, fancier the better, like, Kerrygold if you can swing it)
1/4 cup shredded cheese (all cheese is great)
1/4 cup pine nuts
Handful of cooked greens, or any leftover vegetables, really, chopped up small.
1 TB oil (don’t use olive, because the smoke point is too low, try peanut or grapeseed or vegetable oil, it’s a single tablespoon, it’s not going to kill you)
Salt and pepper to taste, any dried herbs you like (rosemary, thyme, etc.)
A lot more butter, and a lemon.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Do you have an oven thermometer? Mine informed me that my oven DOES get up to the correct temperature, but it also takes about ten minutes longer than the “preheat” light suggests. Should you obtain one, you’ll have better results if you hang it in the middle of your oven, away from the door, because otherwise the air will cause it to read low when you open the door.
Take the breasts (and your butter) out of the fridge about twenty minutes before you want to start cooking, and get the rest of your shit sorted while you wait. What I do is take a little bowl and dump in everything I want to shove under the skin, except the butter. The first few times you do this, you’ll probably overestimate how much stuffing you need, and then you have to toss out the rest. I always wind up with too much cheese.
Put your pan on the stove and set the heat to medium high. Let it get really hot, and while it’s heating, pop your butter in the microwave to soften it a bit. Glom it together with your little bowl of stuffing.
Using two fingers in a “where’s my G-spot” gesture, slide under the skin of the breast and tug it away from the meat, creating a little cavern into which things can be placed. Raw chicken is gross as shit, so if you want to wear plastic gloves, I shan’t stand against you.
Work your butter and cheese and stuff under the skin of the breast, and smoosh it around until it’s reasonably even. Some of it will fall out the side, that’s okay. Salt and pepper both sides.
Is your pan nice and hot? Add your tablespoon of oil, wait for the shimmer that suggests it’s heated but not smoking, and place the breasts in the pan, skin-side down.
Let them hang out on that side until they get brown, I tend to wait about six minutes and then flip them over. If they don’t want to move when you go to turn them, give them another 30 seconds. At this point, I sometimes drizzle some melted butter or olive oil on top, but it’s not mandatory. Let them hang out on THIS side for another six minutes. Sprinkle your random herbs on top.
Now, put the pan in the oven (IF you do not have an oven-safe pan, you can put them on an oiled and foiled baking sheet for this phase, but one of the reasons to love cast iron is never needing to saying “I’m sorry, I have to get started on all these dishes, have dessert without me”) for about 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, either use your meat thermometer to make sure the internal temp is 165, or slice the thickest breast to make sure it’s not pink in the middle, and let the breasts sit for about five minutes before serving. If your thermometer says 160, that’s fine, it’ll keep cooking for a bit when it rests, especially if you tent it with foil. It’ll probably take more like 15, but I encourage you to check early, especially the first time you make these.
If you want to get fancy (it is no more work, because it ALSO cleans the pan for you!), take the chicken breasts out and put them on your plates, and then return the pan to the stovetop on high and dump in a glass of white wine and more butter and scrape up the brown bits and let it boil down while the meat is resting. Now you have a pan sauce! Pour it over the breasts. Squeeze a lemon on it!
Eat. I like to do mashed root veggies on the side, or a salad, or roasted brussels sprouts or carrots, or literally the world’s easiest side dish: sauteeing salted and peppered asparagus spears in butter until they’re bright green.
This will be delicious. Our next version will be all-oven, all-the-time.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.