Tired of dry, tough boneless chicken breasts? These Restaurant Style Sautéed Chicken Breasts are juicy, tender, full of flavor – and EASY!
Have you ever had something that you just couldn’t quite master? No matter how hard you tried? I’ve felt like that for a long time when it came to pan-sautéed chicken breast. I wanted juicy, tender meat, but I also wanted the results to have beautiful visual appeal. I tried lots of “perfect pan-sautéd chicken breast recipes” but found each one to be lacking. I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally arrived! These Restaurant Style Sautéed Chicken Breasts are everything I was looking for – and more!
When I look at the variety of chicken available at my local grocery stores, it’s obvious that boneless, skinless chicken breasts are extremely popular. There’s always a disproportionally plentiful supply of this cut, in comparison to any other. And I totally get it – these prepped breasts are healthy, lean and very convenient. And yet it seems there are also more complaints of dry, tough “rubbery” meat with this chicken cut than the others.
I’ve learned a few tricks over the years to make delicious grilled chicken breasts as well as a wonderful technique for Juicy, Tender Baked Boneless Chicken Breasts, but achieving delicious results on the stovetop just seemed to elude me.
Restaurant Style Sautéed Chicken Breasts are possible
I knew it was possible, as I’ve had amazing (and attractive) sautéed chicken breasts at restaurants. So I was determined this time, to figure out my dilemma. As usual, I started out my quest with Mr. Google.
How to make juicy, tender pan-sautéed boneless, skinless chicken breasts?
Wow, 12,600,000 results! As I sorted through the “best of the best” it was (once again) obvious that there were lots of “tried and true” techniques: “pound the meat”, “slice the meat”, “brine the meat”, “cover the pan”, “don’t cover the pan”, “use butter”, “use oil”, “use butter and oil”, “season and refrigerate for 30 minutes”, “pat the chicken dry”, “rub the chicken with oil”… And on and on it goes.
I’ve gone through a serious amount of chicken breasts, over the last month or so, and have tried lots of the above techniques with varying degrees of success. In the end, I’ve come up with my own technique for what I call, Restaurant Style Sautéed Chicken Breasts. Instead of writing about my research, I’ve included all the secrets below in my Café Tips. I think you’ll love these Restaurant Style Sautéed Chicken Breasts as much as we do!
One last thing; I had fun creating a delicious rub for this chicken. It adds tons of flavor and a beautiful presentation. Don’t be skimpy with it. You’ll have more than you actually need for this recipe, but it’s a great all-purpose seasoning for veggies, pork, shrimp, salmon… so don’t discard it.
Café Tips for juicy, tender, Restaurant Style Sautéed Chicken Breasts
- Look for smaller chicken breasts. These days, it seems that the chicken producers think that bigger is better. I think smaller breasts have better flavor and stay more tender. Often grocery stores will have packages with the same number of breasts in each one. Look for the least expensive/lowest weight package which will give you smaller individual pieces.
- Use a rub and allow it to sit on the chicken for 15 minutes before cooking. This acts as a dry brine to add flavor and also tenderize the chicken.
- The rub should include a bit of sugar as well as paprika. The sugar will help the chicken sear nicely without a super high heat which can cause a tough outer coating. Paprika gives pretty color and if you use a mild paprika, it doesn’t add much additional flavor. I’ve included our favorite rub in the recipe below. (I purchased this mild paprika several years ago when Scott and I were in France. I loved it and was sad when it was gone. Now I’ve found it on Amazon and it’s so reasonable, yay!)
- Be sure to really coat the chicken breasts with the delicious rub. The proportion of salt in the rub allows you to be generous without making the finished product too salty.
- A lot of recipes call for pounding the chicken breasts to an even thickness. I’ve found this to be unnecessary most of the time. I haven’t had a problem with the thinner portions of the breasts drying out. The only time I might pound would be if the pieces were exceptionally thick in the center. Even then I would just pound a bit as the presentation is much prettier and more natural if they are not pounded flat.
- Don’t crank the heat up too high. I like to start with a medium heat then check the underside after a few minutes. If it’s browning too fast, I reduce the heat a bit. A HUGE bonus to using medium heat in lieu of a high temperature (as most recipes call for) is that there’s very little spatter on to the stovetop. Although I love pan-seared entrées, I HATE making a big spatter mess on my stovetop!
- If using a tongs (or metal spatula) to add and turn your chicken, make sure to wash it in between uses. It will have raw chicken bacteria on it which you don’t want to transfer to the cooked chicken.
- Use an instant thermometer! It’s the best way to ensure that your chicken is not over or undercooked. Check the thickest part of the breast and place the tip of the thermometer about halfway into it. You want a temperature of 160˚F. 165˚F is the ideal temperature for chicken but the temp will go up a little more once you remove it from the heat. This is a wonderful, highly reviewed instant thermometer:
- Once the temperature reaches 160˚F, remove the chicken from the heat and cover loosely with foil. Allow the chicken to rest for at least 5 minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute and not run out when the meat is sliced into.
- Use a cast iron or heavy duty stainless steel pan for best results. Although I love a non-stick pan for lots of things, I don’t recommend using one for making Restaurant Style Sautéed Chicken Breasts. You want a nice sear which you won’t get with the non-stick. If you don’t own a cast iron pan, they are wonderful and can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. If cared for properly, a cast iron pan will last for generations! Mine is like an old friend and actually belonged to Scott’s grandmother. I wish it could speak as I’m sure it would have wonderful tales to tell! Cast iron pans aren’t expensive and, though they’re very heavy, you can get free shipping on this one with Amazon!
- This recipe is totally adjustable regarding serving yield. Just use a large enough pan so that the meat is not crowded and 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of oil for every two breasts. That’s it!
P.S. Sneak preview! You’ll want to master this technique so you’ll be all set for the wonderful salad we’ve got – coming up next!
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- 1 tablespoon garlic salt
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon mild paprika
- 2 teaspoons dry Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 small to medium boneless skinless chicken breasts see notes above in post
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the rub, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Set aside.
Place chicken breasts on a plate or shallow pan. Pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with the rub, then rub it in with your hand. Allow breasts to sit with the rub on for 15-30 minutes, at room temperature.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a cast iron or heavy stainless steel pan over medium heat for two minutes. Oil should be fairly hot, but not at the smoking point. Make sure the pan is large enough to accommodate all of the breasts without crowding.
- Add the chicken and allow to sit for 3 minutes without touching. After 3 minutes, take a peek at the underside of one of the breasts. If it’s browning too quickly lower the heat a bit. Continue cooking for a total of 5 minutes or until the underside is nicely browned.
- Flip breasts to opposite side and immediately lower heat to the lowest setting. Continue to cook for another 5-8 minutes OR until internal temperature reaches 160˚F. (see notes above in Café Tips)
- Once 160˚F is reached, remove the pan from heat and cover loosely with foil. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then slice and enjoy!