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5 Easy Tips for Cooking Juicy Chicken
Methods I have learned as a chef that will help any beginner to cook the juiciest chicken
So you're interested in improving your culinary technique? I will teach you what I had to learn the hard way so that your next chicken dinner will be the best you've ever had.
1. How to tell if your chicken is fully cooked.
The main reason chicken usually ends up dry is that people would rather have a dry chicken than risk an under-cooked chicken. Raw or under-cooked chicken can cause health issues and is a big concern in the restaurant business. Most restaurants will cook poultry until they are absolutely sure its fully cooked. Some restaurants will even tear into a piece of chicken just to verify that its cooked all the way through.
One method I started using very early on in my culinary career that helped me ensure properly cooked poultry was to cut into the biggest piece of chicken to ensure that it had finished cooking. If the largest piece of chicken is cooked all the way through, then this means that every other piece is definitely finished cooking. At home I would always claim the largest piece for myself, allowing me to cut into it without compromising presentation for my other guests. If after cutting a slice into the thickest part of the breast you see that it is not done cooking, simply continue cooking it until all of the pink inside has turned white.
2. Filet your chicken breasts!
Thicker pieces of chicken breast obviously take longer to cook. If you filet or butterfly cut the breast you drastically reduce the cooking time. This allows you to use higher heat, which will cook even faster, and means less time in front of the stove!
3. Thin slices of chicken cook fast and can make your presentation more versatile!
If you're cooking for a larger group of people (4+ plates), it is sometimes a good idea to slice the chicken breasts into thin slices and toss them all into a pan with seasoning. This method is great when you want to mix your chicken in with some sautéd vegetables, onions, and mushrooms. You can utilize the method described in #1 and cut into a larger slice to verify that it is cooked all the way through and know for certain that all of your chicken is done cooking!
Another variation of this, which can also be used to enhance your presentation is to cook the breasts whole, then place them on a clean cutting board while you plate your side dishes. Once your side dishes have been plated, you come back to your chicken and cut it into thin slices while keeping all of the slices lined up. Then you take your knife and slide it under all of the slices and carefully place the slices onto the plate. A good example of this is to cook some rice and sautéd spinach. Serve the spinach on one side of the plate, and serve the rice on the other side. Push down the rice a little to make an even surface for your sliced chicken, then place the slices on top of the rice.
4. Cook with a little water.
This method is a little unorthodox and I'm sure if your chef friends heard it they might make a strange face at you, but it does work. Sometimes when you're cooking larger pieces of chicken breast on the stove top, the pan can start to dry out. Without oil or butter you could have the chicken sticking to the pan, or start to develop a hard or dry exterior. One cause of this could be that you are cooking with too much heat and need to turn it down a little. If this happens to you, just turning down the heat wont solve the problem. Adding more oil or butter could work but you risk ending up with oily chicken. My solution? Pour a little water in there! Now don't go crazy and dump a cup of water all over your chicken because that will cause a whole other set of issues. Just take a small cup and fill it a quarter way, pour only enough water in the pan to -almost- cover the bottom surface of your pan. It should be bubbling and boiling off the water almost instantly. If you pour water into the pan and it is not bubbling then either your heat was too low or you added entirely too much water and you should try to pour out the excess water.
Adding water to the pan will start to steam cook your chicken. This will help keep the outside of your chicken from drying out and will keep it nice and juicy! Be warned though, flipping your chicken over while the water is in the pan can end up rinsing off some of your spices and make your chicken breast look bland. When I use this method I do not flip the chicken so that the top will still keep all of its seasoning and browning. This will ensure that your poultry is still aesthetically pleasing.
5. From stove top to the oven!
When cooking larger breasts of chicken, sometimes the stove top just wont do. Unless you cook at a lower temperature you will end up burning the outside of your chicken before the inside finishes cooking. To counter this, simply pan sear your chicken to get a nice browning on the outside and to seal in all those juices! Then transfer it onto a sheet tray with a little butter or oil to prevent sticking, and let it finish cooking in the oven. Again, if you're ever unsure about it being fully cooked, don't be afraid to make a small slice in one of the larger pieces to double check that its done. My families favorite chicken dinner involves pan searing the chicken, cooking it in the oven for a few minutes and then sprinkling a little bacon and shredded 3 cheese on top before placing it back into the oven to finish. The cheese will melt, the chicken will finish cooking, and your guests will be in awe of the flavor!
Don't be afraid to try new things!
I will never cook a new recipe for the first time for a larger group of people. Any new recipe I want to try will be made for just me and my fiancé at first. After I try it and receive some feedback, I will tweak it and then try again until I am happy with the dish. Then and only then will I prepare it for a larger group of family or friends. It is always good to try new recipes and techniques on a smaller scale. This helps prevent food waste in case of catastrophic failure, and it also helps prevent putting family and friends through the torture of a less than pleasant meal should things not go according to plan. I have used every technique listed above in some variation or combination with wonderful results. Trust your instincts and dare to push your limits. Thank you for reading and I hope I have helped to expand your horizons in the kitchen.