Should I even write about this? I mean what could be duller than a chicken breast. You know, those dry, chalky slices that leave you begging for more Cesar dressing when they turn up in your salad. Or the dehydrated lump in your curry that leads you to believe you are not the chef’s favourite person. But it’s leaner aka healthier, all chickens have them so it would be rude to throw them away, and while they will never live up to the succulence of the leg meat that can withstand lengthy cooking in a rich sauce without giving you that “eating cardboard” sensation, you have to do something with them. And as we all know they have less fat (aka less flavour) so my more health conscious brethren will continue to demand them…like a kind of penance!
Of course, any chef worth his salt will know that his entire clientele will instantly die if he doesn’t cook his chicken till the juices run clear. A hint of pink, say bye bye to your glorious career. What they don’t realise is that the juices can run clear (clients live to fight another day) while the breast meat can still retain a hint of pink. Chicken isn’t that dangerous. Let’s face it, even if you choose the worst quality chicken, it has probably taken more antibiotics over the course of its very short life than you will in your entire existence. Factory farmed chicken may have cured you of many diseases that you didn’t know you had.
While cooking the whole bird (preferably one that has lived a gloriously privileged free range life eating the finest comestibles), there are all sorts of strategies that can be applied to prevent “Sahara breast effect”. Basting, buttering, tenting with foil, or even hacking the bloody thing in half and starting the breast part later. But if you give me a pair of fillets, off the bone, what do I do? Well the only reliable advice is brining, but frankly that takes a lot of forethought, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.
Then I came across a recipe (with its appropriate condiments) for Thai Chicken Rice. And she uses the breast (though this is not obligatory). And it provides the basic principle for cooking the perfect chicken breast. Basically get your preferred liquid up to maximum heat (I used my rich chicken stock), submerge breasts, boil for 4 minutes, slap on a tightly fitting pot lid, turn off the heat and WALK AWAY! FOR 50 MINUTES. As cooking people do, she recommends various other steps, rubbing the thing in salt, cooking on the bone, shocking it afterwards in freezing water. Well you can play with these things afterwards but as far as I can see they make little difference. It’s all about faith. Four minutes seems to be enough for the residual heat to finish the cooking process while leaving the breast as moist as you can imagine, maybe with a tinge of pink, but definitely the juices run clear. 5 minutes was too much! And don’t even think about giving it a little warm up half way through the process.
If you want to go traditional (Thai), you then cook the rice in the stock and make a range of lovely sauces as per her website. http://highheelgourmet.com/2013/07/20/thai-chicken-rice-khao-man-gai/
Once I’d mastered the technique I just bunged all the flavours I wanted into the stock, soy, sweet vinegar, ginger, garlic and mirim, and once I had extracted the perfect chicken, reduced it down to a thick dip.
So have you got this? Cooking time for a chicken breast is 4 minutes! No more, and only less if you are feeling adventurous. Use the liquid of your choice. Make a nice sauce from it afterwards. But don’t bloody touch it for 50 minutes! No longer will you inflict sawdust chook on your unsuspecting guests and as the thing is only tepid when it comes out of the water bath you can use it in salads and sauces with impunity. Just don’t cook it any more.
So simple I am embarrassed to write about it….but then why are so many restaurants still getting it wrong?