Chicken breasts are notoriously tricky to cook. Because they’re lean, they tend to dry out quickly and their thickness varies significantly from end to end. Often, by the time the wide side has cooked through, the tapered end becomes stringy and tough.
There are a couple of tricks to employ to keep the meat tender, moist and juicy. The first, of course, is to use the best chicken. Choose pasture-raised chickens, birds that have lived outside in the sun. They are healthy birds, raised without hormones or antibiotics, and their meat is flavorful, firm and more “chickeny.”
To deal with the meat’s shape, try placing it on a hard surface and pounding it a little with the back of a skillet. Marinating the meat in yogurt can work wonders, too. Greek yogurt is your best choice because it contains calcium and lactic acid, and the two work together to break down the meat’s protein so it becomes super-tender and moist. It’s similar to adding acid marinades of lemon juice, vinegar or wine, except lactic acid is gentler. There’s also less danger of the meat turning mushy or rubbery if left too long, and the yogurt infuses the chicken with a tangy flavor.
Yogurt-Lemon Chicken BreastsServes 4 to 6.
These chicken breasts cook up to be juicy and tender, thanks to a tangy, lemony marinade. Make a few extra to have on hand for sandwiches, pasta and salads. Here they’re served over farro-veggie salad in a light, bright bowl. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
• 1 c. plain whole milk Greek yogurt
• 2 cloves garlic, grated
• 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
• Generous pinch freshly ground pepper
• 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for drizzling over the chicken and lemon
• 1 small lemon, thinly sliced
• Chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Place the chicken on a hard surface and lightly pound with the back of a heavy skillet to even the meat out. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice and oil. Add the chicken to the yogurt and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or overnight. Remove the chicken and allow it to come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange the chicken on a sheet pan along with the sliced lemons. Drizzle the chicken and the lemon slices with a little oil. Roast the chicken until lightly browned and the juices run clear. A meat thermometer inserted into the center should register 165 degrees, about 10 to 25 minutes, depending on thickness. (Note that the lemon slices may be done before the meat.) Remove the pan and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before slicing on the grain to serve garnished with the lemon slices and parsley.
Farro and Chickpea Salad
Serves 4 to 6.
This nutty-tasting whole-grain salad can be tossed together a few hours ahead. Vary the vegetables to suit the season. This is delicious topped with cooked chicken. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 c. farro
• Salt for the cooking water
• 3 tbsp. lemon juice
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 tbsp. finely diced shallots
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Pinch red pepper flakes, to taste
• 1 c. cooked or canned chickpeas, drained
• 1 large bell pepper, seeded and diced
• Chopped parsley, for garnish
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil over high heat. Add the farro and cook until al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, oil and shallots. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Transfer the farro, chickpeas and peppers to a large bowl. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve garnished with the parsley.