Monday, January 16, 2006

A Reader Question about Chicken

A reader (Harlan over at Somethink to Chew On) wrote a comment about the Sauteed Chicken over Wilted Spinach with Kumquat Sauce recipe I posted recently:

"Hi Mark. I just made this dish this evening -- fantastic! Thank you very much for posting it! One question about cooking chicken breasts... I've been getting this Murray's organic chicken breasts from the local butcher, and they're huge! Like, almost the size of turkey breasts! They're close to 2" thick, and they take something like 12 minutes to cook through in a saute pan. Needless to say, after 12 minutes, the chicken gets a bit overdone. Would you suggest pounding the chicken breasts flatter? Or should I try to find another source for chicken? None of my cookbooks suggest pounding chicken breasts, so I'm not sure if it's a bad idea or not... Thanks!"

Thanks for the comment, Harlan. If you look closely at the photo I posted, I actually pounded the chicken breasts to an even thickness and cut them in half, because it seems that chicken is coming in gargantuan portions lately (more on that later).

I do think it helps to make the chicken more tender if you pound it out to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch. You can put it between two layers of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet or the bottom of a small heavy bottomed pan. I also sometimes dredge them very lightly in flour before pan sauteeing them, as well. This helps to seal in the juices a little better. I usually start with a really smoking hot pan and turn them once they start to sweat a little on the upper side. Once I've turned them, I just let them finish up for a couple of minutes. I know that chicken must be cooked through, but in our zeal to avoid salmonella, sometimes we cook it too much and dry it out. A few minutes on each side should be sufficient.

I know what you mean about these gigantic chicken breasts we're getting lately. It makes me worried about the hormones that must be going into these animals. But as you point out, even the organic and supposedly hormone free chicken breasts are huge! It has to do with our American obsession with white meat, and the growers are breeding birds that are more heavy on the white meat than dark. Check out this great post on the subject by the always erudite Kate at Accidental Hedonist.

I'd be interested to hear more comments from readers on this topic.

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