Saturday, January 22, 2011

How to Cook a Chicken Breast

No seriously. Today I'm giving out step-by-step, I honestly hope they will be easy enough even for beginners, basic chicken breast cooking directions. Yes, these days I am the very image of domesticity, but back when I first graduated from college I couldn't really cook. I could make a few very specific things (I'm pretty sure I've mentioned here that I got invited to late-night after parties in college more for my ability to make Kraft mac and cheese from a box than for my sparkling personality). But actual dinner every single night? No way. I was crap at getting a decent dinner together when no one was around to monitor what I made and ate. Heck, I still am. But I did learn to cook, with no formal training and surprisingly less swearing than I would have predicted at the outset. So if you're feeling like you need to add a basic dish to your repertoire, or maybe that you should have a dish in your repertoire, here we go. Chicken with balsamic and mushrooms, the baby steps version.

This recipe is to serve 2 people. It can easily be cut in half if you're only cooking for one, or increased if you're cooking for many.

1 small chicken breast per person
2 Tablespoons flour (substitute brown rice flour if you want to make this gluten-free)
3-4 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves
4 oz sliced mushrooms (the containers you get at the grocery store are usually 8oz, so use half of one of those - buy pre-sliced if you are lazy, it will save you a step. If you don't know what to do with the rest, you can toss some on salads, or cook then in a little butter and fold into an omelet).
1/4 Cup balsamic vinegar (balsamic comes in different degrees of fancy, don't get the cheapest, but don't buy really expensive stuff either).
3/4 Cup chicken stock (the rest can be frozen)
1 tsp dried thyme (it will keep forever, don't worry about owning a jar)
salt and pepper

1 large frying pan, hopefully non-stick
a cutting board
1 knife
tongs, hopefully with the plastic part covering the ends, not metal which will scrape your pan
an oven proof plate (you can use a cookie sheet if you can't find an oven proof plate)
a liquid measuring cup (for the chicken stock) and measuring spoons
something heavy like a rolling pin or the frying pan
plastic wrap or waxed paper

1. Turn your oven on to its lowest possible setting.
2. Clean your mushrooms by rubbing with a damp paper towel and slice, you can skip this if you buy pre-sliced.
3. Peel the garlic cloves and cut off the crusty bit at the base and discard. Chop the garlic up very fine.
4. Set the garlic and mushrooms aside in bowls ready to go next to the stove.
5. Take the chicken out of its package. Rinse it off in the sink and dry it using paper towels. There may be some fatty bits around the edges which you can trim off, and there's also a sort of gross tendony bit towards the fatter end which you can cut off. Discard the ooky bits.
6. Put the chicken on a cutting board and cover it with either plastic wrap or waxed paper. You are going to pound the chicken. See how its thick at one end and thin at the other? That will make it cook unevenly.

7. Use a rolling pin or the bottom of a flat frying pan to pound the chicken. You'll need to hit reasonably hard, but make sure your focus is on keeping it uniform in thickness. Your finished chicken may not be as pretty, but no worries, we're covering him in flour. Here it is flattened:
8. Throw out the wrap and put the rolling pin in the sink. Wash your chickeny hands.
9. Put the pan on the stove and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter (butter sticks have tablespoons marked on the wrapper). Turn the heat to medium high/high.
10. Mix the flour together with a half teaspoon of salt and a few good shakes (or grinds) or pepper. Then you can sprinkle the flour right over the chicken. I poured the flour on a dry surface (I used my cutting board, but if it isn't completely dry it will be gross and clumpy, so don't do that) then made sure I coated each side of the chicken.
11. Keep an eye on that pan. The butter can get a deep golden color but you don't really want it to brown. The pan is hot enough when a droplet of water flicked into the pan sizzles and spits. Stand back when you test it like this.
12. When the pan is hot enough, pick up the chicken breast(s) and give a good shake so the extra flour falls off. Gently place in the middle of the pan.
13. Cook for four minutes. Then use your tongs to flip. Lower the temperature to medium.
14. Cook for four more minutes. The chicken will feel much firmer when it is done. Chicken must be cooked all the way through, no pink, so check by cutting open if you're paranoid and new to this.15. Remove the chicken to the oven proof plate and place in the warm oven, remember the temperature is on keep warm or whatever your lowest setting is.
16. Okay your chicken is in the oven and your pan is empty except some leftover oil and some brown crackly bits. Reduce the heat to low. Toss in the mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Add the chicken stock and balsamic vinegar. Use your spatula to scrape the good brown bits off the bottom of the pan and mix in with the mushrooms and sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the mushrooms are all tender and glistening like here:17. Turn off the heat and stir in 2 more tablespoons of butter. Yum.
18. Take the chicken out of the oven (and turn the oven off). Put it on a plate and gently spoon the mushrooms and sauce over top.

See, that wasn't terrible, was it?


laughcooklove said...

sounds yummy! I think basic dishes are the best. Also, the first thing you ever made for me was nachos. Also yum.

mom said...

Sometimes the simplest things ARE the hardest, but when they are done well (as here) they are magnificent.


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