I eat little meat, especially red, and tend mainly to use chicken in my recipes. For what ? Because it is multidisciplinary. It’s simple, you can do anything with chicken thanks to its mild flavor which supports any combination. Whole roasted with spices, mixed and molded into ballotine, or simply cut into cubes then seared, the possibilities are numerous. Among them, here is what I have learned in my years of cooking to enhance a simple chicken breast.
Tip #1: marinade
We start gently with a tip that is admittedly simple, but which has proven itself for a long time: the marinade. Whether spicy, fruity, peppery, sweet and sour, or milky, the latter pleasantly flavors the meat while tenderizing it.
In my kitchen ? I mainly use the marinade with cubes of chicken breasts with a preference for marinades based on soy sauce, wasabi and ginger (I frequently use leftover seasonings from sushi orders). For large pieces such as whole poultry or thighs, I favor powdered spices.
Attention : In some marinades, there is lemon juice (yellow or green it doesn’t matter), which can slow down or even prevent the Maillard reaction as we will see below.
Tip #2: the quantity in the pan
Unlike the previous advice, the one that comes is not so obvious when it has never been explained to us. In the case, for example, of marinated chicken fillet, cut into cubes then seared, you must pay attention to the way of cooking but also to the quantity for a perfect result.
The principle that applies? The famous Maillard reaction as mentioned above. It is thanks to this reaction, essential in cooking, that foods brown and brown nicely, taking on so-called “cooking” notes. But sometimes this famous chemical reaction does not occur, and our meat struggles to brown. Consequence: we tirelessly continue cooking while waiting for a miracle, with the only result being meat that is too pale to be attractive and too dry to be delicious.
The problems involved : pan not hot enough, food stirred too frequently, amount of water, amount of food, or acidity.
The rule to apply. In the case of chicken, it is better to avoid a marinade that is too lemony, and even if the chicken has not been marinated, you should not put too many pieces in your pan or sauté pan. Each piece must be in contact with the bottom of the pan, that’s the basic rule.
Tip #3: heat from the pan
As we have seen, the pan must be very hot to instantly sear the meat.
The underlying problem? If the pan is not hot enough, the reaction will struggle to occur, but above all the meat will “boil”! Yes, you too have already noticed this problem without knowing how to resolve it, or achieve this pretty coloring which gives so much taste.
In my kitchen ? To give you an idea, my cooking plate reaches up to level 9, and I generally sear my chicken between 8 and 9.
Tip #4: the right tempo
Once we have marinated our chicken breast cubes, and we have discussed the heat of the pan and the quantity to cook, we must continue the exercise.
In my kitchen ? I proceed by session, to be sure to obtain this famous Maillard reaction. In my hot wok with cooking oil, I put a few cubes of chicken and… I wait! Yes, you need to give time for the reaction to occur and brown the meat nicely. As the wok is on high heat, the reaction is not long in coming. I gently turn my pieces over so that they are golden on each side and set aside.
Yes, I take my pieces out before they are fully cooked, I just brown them for the moment.
When all my chicken cubes are golden brown, I put them back in the wok or frying pan and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes.
Tip #5: rest time
When my chicken is cooked, I don’t serve it immediately. Like any other meat, it must be allowed to rest so that the juices are distributed throughout the flesh and the meat is as juicy and soft as possible.
In my kitchen ? I take my chicken out of the wok, set aside and cover with aluminum foil. For my part, I wait about 10 minutes before serving. For a whole chicken, I can expect a little more. Indeed, if you cut a roast chicken right out of the oven, you will immediately realize that the juices flow out of the bird, although it is better that it stays inside.
The final word
Among all the tips that I have just mentioned, the cooking time of the chicken as well as the resting time are two key moments to which you must pay particular attention.
As a final word, I would add that you should not be pessimistic and prolong the cooking too much, especially in the case of chicken cubes which cook quickly. If when serving, you realize that the meat is undercooked, you can always put it on the heat again for 1 to 2 minutes, whereas if it is overcooked unfortunately, there is not much to do.