Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are probably the most popular cut of meat sold in America today. They are quick, easy, low fat, and universally popular. But when not cooked properly, they can be dry, tough, and stringy. What are the best ways of cooking them so you end up with moist, tender, flavorful meat?
Two Ways To Cook Chicken
First of all, there are two basic methods for cooking: dry heat and moist heat. Dry heat methods include baking, roasting, grilling, sauteing, and deep frying. Moist heat methods include microwaving, poaching, baking in parchment, steaming, and slow cooking.
How Long To Cook Chicken
Here are some general rules to help you. When cooking chicken breasts with dry heat, use high heat and cook for a short period of time. When using moist heat, use low heat and cook for a longer period of time. Now longer does not mean hours. Grilled chicken breasts cook in 8-10 minutes, while poached breasts cook in about 15 minutes. Here is another tip: when cooking with dry heat, pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness so they will cook evenly.
Chicken breasts have little connective tissue; that means they can be cooked quickly because the long cooking time needed to soften connective tissue is not necessary. They also have little fat, which means they can become dry if cooked too long.
Brining A Chicken
One way to ensure juicy, moist chicken is to brine it before cooking. To brine chicken, place thawed chicken breasts in a solution of salt and water for about 1 hour in the refrigerator. The cells will absorb water through osmosis. If your chicken has been pre-brined, I do not recommend brining again.
Cooking Chicken Breast
Many experts recommend that chicken breast meat must be cooked to an internal temperature of 170 degrees F, but others say 160 degrees F is fine. You will have a juicier chicken if you cook to 160 degrees F. Chicken must reach a temperature of 160 degrees F for 5.2 seconds to kill pathogens.
Recommended Temperature When Cooking Chicken
Currently, the USDA is recommending that, because of bird flu fears, chicken should be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees F. Remember that the meat will continue to cook after it’s removed from the heat; the internal temperature will rise about 5-10 degrees in the first few minutes it’s off the heat.
The final temperature you choose should be based on the health and risk factors of those who will be eating the meat. If you have young children, elderly persons, or those with a compromised immune system in your household, choose the higher temperature. Healthy people above the age of 5 have built up a tolerance to low levels of bacteria and would not get sick when served chicken cooked to the lower temperatures.
Here is another tip for you. When cooling the meat, be sure to do it very quickly, preferably in a container placed in an ice water bath. Also do keep the cooked chicken in the refrigerator no longer than 3-4 days to ensure the quality of your food.
With these tips of cooking chicken, you should be able to dish out delicious chicken dishes from now on.
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