Boneless, skinless chicken breasts

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To get moist, mouthwatering chicken breast, you have to start with good chicken, give it a flavor boost, then cook it carefully to keep it tender and juicy.

Buy the best chicken you can find. Chicken breasts range in color form deep yellow to pinkish white. The color itself isn't as important as its consistency. Look for breasts with a uniform color and no bruises. Breasts should look moist, not dried out, which can signify age.

Prepping boneless, skinless chicken breasts is quick work. Sometimes the breasts are whole, meaning there's two halves attached by yellow cartilage. Many recipes call for cooking the halves separately.

Before you start any recipe, here's what to do: ~ Give the breasts a quick rinse under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels.

~ Separate the breast halves, if necessary, by cutting through the meat just to the side of but close to the tough, yellowish cartilage that holds them together. Discard the cartilage.

~ Trim the remaining fat on the breast with a sharp knife.

~ Remove the tenderloin or leave it attached as desired.

Flattening the chicken breasts makes them more attractive and allows them to cook more evenly. Put the breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound them with a mallet. Pound a little to thin the thicker end; pound more to make the breast uniformly thin for rolling. When cutting strip, chunks, and medallion, flatten the breasts slightly and freeze for about 15 minutes to make them firmer, less slippery, and easier to slice.

Seasoning is crucial because chicken breast is so mild. At the very least, it needs salt and pepper. Use at least ¼ tsp salt and a few turns of freshly ground pepper to properly season each breast. In addition, there are many flavorings and seasonings that the breast can absorb through marinades, rubs, and coatings.

Marinating adds flavor and moisture by submerging the breasts in a seasoned liquid. When making a marinade, use just enough liquid to keep the chicken wet. Prick the chicken's flesh before marinating it so the flavors can easily penetrate. You can use the marinade to baste the breasts while cooking and to make a sauce. Make sure you boil the marinade if you serve it as a sauce to kill any salmonella bacteria. To make a marinade, combine the marinade ingredients in a nonreactive dish or a zip-lock bag. Turn the breasts during marinating to distribute the flavors evenly. For best results, marinate for 4-5 hours in the refrigerator.

A dry marinade, or spice rub, uses very little liquid and lots of spices and herbs to create a thick paste to smear on the breasts. A spice rub imparts intense flavor in a short time, and helps keep moisture in by gibing the chicken a slight crust. To make a spice rub, combine the spice rub ingredients, then smear the rub on the chicken. One way to do this is to put everything in a zip-lock bag and massage the dry marinade onto the chicken. Spice rubs need less time than wet marinades; 2-4 hours should do.

Use coatings for crunch. Breadcrumbs are the most common coating, but chopped nuts, herbs, hard cheeses, cornmeal, or any combination of these work well. To bind the coating, dip the chicken in a liquid, such as melted butter, beaten eggs, or milk, before dredging it in the coating. Refrigerate the coated chicken for 20 minutes before cooking to help the coating adhere. Coated chicken breasts are best sauteed.

Fine Cooking

Oct-Nov 1995

Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 11-11-95

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