Does it sound like a oxymoron to talk about juicy, tender, and baked chicken in the same sentence? Nope! Check it out!
After reading the title of this post, you're probably thinking that I'm giving you a lesson in oxymorons today instead of a recipe, right?
That's what I would have thought too, just a month ago. I was sure that "juicy and tender" did not belong in the same sentence as "baked, boneless chicken breasts". I know I'm a gullible guppy (that's what I'm told) at times, but "juicy, tender, baked chicken breasts" was taking things a little too far! To me, it would have been like saying "minor crisis" or "exact estimate", words that are in definite conflict with each other.
Guess who's had to eat their words?
It all started with this article I ran across from The Kitchen website. The author is a trained chef and talked about a technique she learned in culinary school called "dry poaching". That term piqued my interest, so I read on. Her explanation is what really intrigued my little culinary brain:
There is so little fat in a boneless skinless chicken breast that it's hard to cook it without the meat ending up dry or just plain tasteless. With this method, we take advantage of the steady, all-surrounding heat of the oven, but just before putting the breasts in to bake, we cover them with a piece of parchment paper. The paper acts almost like the chicken's missing skin, protecting the chicken and preventing it from drying out.
Think of this method as a cross between braising and roasting. The chicken bastes in its own juices and the result is tender, juicy chicken breasts that are succulent and never dry.
Brilliant! The paper acts almost like the chicken's missing skin, protecting the chicken and preventing it from drying out. That made so much sense because when you bake skin-on chicken breasts they're wonderfully moist and delicious, not dry.
I loved the idea of an easy, non-messy technique for juicy, tender boneless breasts. I have a zillion recipes that call for diced or shredded chicken breast: soups, chilies, pizzas, paninis and on and on. Plus chicken breasts are lean and perfect for healthy salads and light, low calorie meals (if they're not dry and tough).
I read lots of comments and reviews of the technique and they were overwhelmingly positive, so I gave it a try. I'm happy to say, I was super impressed with the results. Since then I've played around a bit with the recipe, adapting a few things and adding a little seasoning mix that enhances the flavor. I also sent the instructions to my daughter-in-law, Lindsay for her to test the technique, knowing ovens differ and can produce varying results. She loved this easy method, and offered a few additional tips from her experience. Last time we visited, she had baked a few chicken breasts this way and shredded them. For dinner that evening, she made a delicious pizza with a pesto base, topped with the tender chicken, as well as roasted tomatoes and red peppers. Schmakala!!
So I asked Scott to photo document the technique in order to share it with you. Ready? Here goes...
So that's it! Pretty cool huh?
So, whether you're looking for a healthy, delicious dinner entree...
Or you need a bowl full of shredded chicken for chicken salad, sandwiches, pizza etc...
Or you're in the mood for a fabulous, fresh salad - like this delicious Arugula Chicken Salad with Mango and Strawberries. Paired with a vibrantly fresh honey-lime dressing, it's a perfect way to chase away the winter blues! Recipe's coming up Wednesday!
Until then, have fun trying this technique for Juicy, Tender, Baked Boneless Chicken Breasts - I promise it's not an oxymoron!
P.S. If you read the article from The Kitchen on baking the boneless breasts, it doesn't include brining. I've tried it both ways and brining definitely adds flavor and juiciness to the meat. The brine only takes a minute to put together and 20 minutes of hands-off time while the oven preheats, so don't skip this step!
- For the brine:
- 1 quart cool water
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- For the seasoning:
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the chicken:
- 4 bonelss skinless chicken breasts use any number of pieces you want
- extra virgin olive oil
Most chicken breasts won't need to be pounded, but if yours are quite thick on one end with a much thinner opposite end, place chicken breasts, one at a time in a large zippered bag or between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound gently on the thickest part to create even thickness. You're not trying to make the breasts super thin, just evening them out so thinner parts don't cook quicker than the thicker areas. Repeat with all 4 breasts, if needed.
Combine brine ingredients in a medium-large bowl. Stir for about 30 seconds until salt and sugar have dissolved. Add chicken breasts and allow to brine for 20 minutes while oven is preheating and you're preparing seasoning mixture.
Preheat oven to 450˚F. Prepare seasoning mix by combining all ingredients in a small bowl.
Remove breasts from brine and rinse with cool water. Pat dry with a paper towel and place in baking pan, leaving space between them. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle lightly with seasoning on both sides. You may have some seasoning left over. Be generous, but don't season too heavily, as chicken will have already absorbed salt from the brine.
Cover chicken with a piece of parchment paper and tuck down at edges. Place in preheated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Check internal temperature after 15 minutes with a digital thermometer (for very small pieces of chicken, bake for 10 minutes, then check temperature). Insert thermometer probe from one side into the center. You want temperature to read 160-165˚F. You may need to remove smaller pieces first, as they will reach optimal temperature quicker than larger pieces.
When 160-165˚F temp is reached, remove pan from oven and tent with foil for 10 minutes before serving. This will allow juices to reabsorb and not run out when meat is cut. Serve and enjoy!
* A digital thermometer (also called an instant read thermometer) is essential for meat that is not over or under cooked. You don't have to purchase an expensive one. This thermometer has fantastic reviews and is moderately priced. If you want to splurge and get something nicer, this Thermopen is the one we bought Scott last Christmas. It has over 1,100 5-star reviews on Amazon and he has loved it! We bought it with the grill in mind, but I've found myself using it all the time for inside cooking too. That's a win-win!