50 ways with chicken breasts
The skinless chicken breast is one of the leanest, most protein-packed foods you can eat. It`s also boring. Keep it delicious, meal after meal
By Phillip Rhodes
Every family argues about what to have for dinner. But the Shrader family of West Virginia, USA, took dinner-table combat to a whole new level last year when 49-year-old Jackie Lee and his 24-year-old son Harley whipped out pistols and exchanged fire after sparring about how to cook their meal.
What food could trigger a kitchen gun battle? The harmless, boneless, skinless (and often flavourless) chicken breast, that’s what. Sure, this omnipresent poultry cut is the leanest source of protein this side of tofu or fish – a single serving offers 26g of protein for just one gram of saturated fat – but it’s boring as hell. And it doesn’t help that most people eat their annual average of 39kg in one of two ways: soaked in marinade or slathered in mayonnaise.
That’s exactly how I envision the Shrader feud erupting.
“Marinade!” one might have said.
“No! Mayo!” yelled the other.
Back and forth it went until it came to blows, then bullets. (Harley Lee took a slug to the head but survived.) That’s why I came up with this list: not one, not two, but 50 different ways to prepare a chicken breast. What good is eating healthy food if the boredom nearly kills you?
Basic technique Cut the raw chicken into bite-sized pieces or thin strips. Cook them in a non-stick pan or wok over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until browned. Add the remaining ingredients in the order listed below.
Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
Tip: sesame oil gives stir-fried dishes their distinct flavour. Its nutritional profile is similar to that of olive oil (high in good unsaturated fats) but if you don’t have sesame use canola or peanut oil, as olive oil can burn at high temperatures.
1. 1 Tbsp low-sodium soya sauce; 2 tsp sesame oil; ½ cup green or red pepper, cut into strips; ¼ medium onion, cut lengthwise into strips; ½ tsp red pepper flakes
2. 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce; 2 tsp sesame oil; ½ cup matchstick carrots; ½ cup chopped celery; 1 onion, sliced; 2 Tbsp chopped, unsalted peanuts
3. 1 Tbsp low-sodium soya sauce; 2 tsp sesame oil; ½ cup asparagus tips; 2 Tbsp chopped, unsalted cashews
4. 1 Tbsp low-sodium soya sauce; 1 Tbsp lemon juice; 1 tsp lemon zest; 1 tsp honey; 1 clove garlic, crushed; ½ cup peas; 1 cup chopped celery
5. 1 whisked egg; ½ cup (or more) chopped broccoli; ¼ medium onion, cut lengthwise into strips; ½ tsp red pepper flakes; 1 Tbsp low- sodium soya sauce
6. 1 whisked egg; ½ cup peas; ½ cup green or red pepper, cut into strips; ¼ onion, cut lengthwise into strips; 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce.
Basic technique Preheat the oven to 180°C and bake the chicken breast for 20 to 25 minutes. Don’t overcook it; rather err on the side of tenderness.
An overcooked, dried-out chicken breast won’t give you salmonella but you probably won’t want to eat it in the first place.
Tip: quickly searing the breast in a hot pan will help avoid dryness because it locks in the bird’s juices.
Watery, ready-made sauces like salsa are fine for baking – some of the liquid will boil away as the chicken cooks. But thicker sauces need water or stock mixed in, otherwise you’ll be left with a sticky, blackened char.
Tip: use a small baking dish to keep the meat covered with sauce.
7. ¹/³ cup salsa
8. 2 Tbsp jalapeño cottage cheese dip; 2 Tbsp salsa; 1 Tbsp water
9. 2 Tbsp marinara sauce; 2 Tbsp water
10. 2 Tbsp barbecue sauce; 2 Tbsp water
11. 1 clove garlic, peeled; ½ cup low-fat buttermilk; 3 Tbsp lime juice; 1 Tbsp coriander pesto; 1 Tbsp snipped chives
12. 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard; 2 Tbsp honey; 1 tsp olive oil
13. 3 Tbsp chicken stock; 1 Tbsp mustard; 1 clove garlic, crushed
14. 2 Tbsp condensed mushroom soup; 2 Tbsp water
15. 2 Tbsp basil pesto; 2 Tbsp chicken stock
16. 2 Tbsp low-sodium soya sauce; ¼ cup crushed pineapple with juice
17. 3 Tbsp chicken stock; 2 Tbsp light coconut milk; ¼ tsp curry powder
18. ½ cup chicken stock; 1 Tbsp maple syrup; 1 Tbsp apple juice
19. 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar; 1 Tbsp barbecue sauce; 1 clove garlic, crushed
20. 2 Tbsp hot sauce; 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce; ¼ tsp chilli powder
21. 2 Tbsp lemon juice; 2 Tbsp orange marmalade; ¼ tsp rosemary.
Rub one of the following spice mixtures evenly over each breast, then hit the chicken with a shot or two of cooking spray (not too much, though) to hold the rub in place and form a light crust when cooking.
22. ¼ tsp each garlic powder, chilli powder, black pepper, oregano, pinch of salt
23. ¼ tsp each black pepper, chilli powder, red pepper flakes, cumin and hot sauce
24. ¼ tsp each dried basil, rosemary and thyme, pinch of salt and pepper.
A whisked egg acts like glue, holding the crust to the meat. It also gives your poultry a small protein boost. Crack one open in a shallow bowl, whisk it and dip the chicken in it.
Tip: put your crust ingredients in a shallow plate instead of a bowl – it’ll be much easier to coat the breast evenly.
25. Nut crusted Dip the chicken in the egg, then roll it in ½ cup nuts of your choice, finely chopped. Spray lightly with cooking spray.
26. Parmesan crusted Dip the chicken in the egg, then roll it in a mixture of 1 Tbsp of finely grated Parmesan cheese, 1 Tbsp bread crumbs and a pinch of black pepper.
27. Almost fried Dip the chicken in the egg, then roll it in ½ cup crushed cornflakes or bran flakes. Spray lightly with cooking spray.
Relax, this isn’t hard. First, pound the heck out of the chicken breast with a meat tenderiser or the heel of your hand, being careful not to tear it, until it is uniformly thin. Then arrange your ingredients on the breast, roll it up and secure it with toothpicks or kitchen twine so that it doesn’t come undone while baking.
28. 1 slice cheddar cheese; 2 slices deli ham; ¼ tsp black pepper
29. 1 slice mozzarella cheese; 3 slices chorizo; 3 leaves fresh basil, chopped
30. 1 slice mozzarella cheese; ¼ cup chopped tomatoes; 3 leaves fresh basil, chopped
31. 1 small handful baby spinach leaves, chopped; 1 Tbsp blue cheese, crumbled; 1 clove garlic, crushed
32. 1 slice mozzarella cheese; 1 slice salami; 1 Tbsp chopped roast red pepper
33. 1 Tbsp ricotta cheese; 1 Tbsp chopped sun-dried tomatoes; ¼ tsp oregano
34. 1 Tbsp ricotta cheese; 1 Tbsp diced olives; ¼ tsp lemon zest
35. 1 Tbsp basil pesto; 1 Tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese; ¼ tsp black pepper.
GRILLING OR SEARING
Basic technique Heat the grill or place a non-stick pan over medium-high heat on the stove until it’s hot. Add the marinated chicken, cooking 3 to 5 minutes per side or until an internal roasting thermometer reaches 80°C. The chicken doesn’t stop cooking when you take it off the heat. If it’s still hot, it’s still cooking.
Marinades need only about an hour to penetrate the meat. Whether you’re cooking one chicken breast at a time or four at once, just mix the marinade ingredients well in a resealable plastic bag, drop in the chicken, seal, shake and refrigerate.
Tip: if you’re grilling, make some extra marinade and reserve it in a separate bag or bowl. Brush it on the chicken during cooking to keep the meat moist.
36. 2 Tbsp bourbon; 1 tsp mustard; ¼ tsp black pepper
37. 2 Tbsp bourbon; 1 tsp honey; 1 clove garlic, crushed
38. 2 Tbsp white wine; 1 clove garlic, crushed; ¼ tsp thyme
39. 2 Tbsp red wine; 1 tsp barbecue sauce; 1 clove garlic, crushed
40. 2 Tbsp Coca-Cola; ¼ tsp black pepper
41. 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar; ¼ tsp rosemary
42. 2 Tbsp lemon juice; ¼ tsp lemon zest; ¼ tsp black pepper
43. 2 Tbsp pineapple juice; 1 clove garlic, crushed; ¼ tsp black pepper
44. 2 Tbsp plain yoghurt; 1 tsp olive oil; ¼ tsp curry powder
45. 2 Tbsp lime juice; 1 tsp olive oil; ¼ tsp coriander
46. 2 Tbsp lime juice; ¼ tsp cumin; ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
47. 2 Tbsp orange juice; ¼ tsp powdered ginger; ¼ tsp coriander
48. 2 Tbsp orange juice; 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce; ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
49. 1 Tbsp low-sodium soya sauce; 1 tsp sesame oil; ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
50. 2 Tbsp plain yoghurt; ¼ tsp dill.
Read ’em and eat
The fine print on poultry labels
What it means for the chicken Up to eight percent of the meat’s weight may come from flavour-enhancing injections or marinades.
What it means for you Since chicken is sold by weight, you’re paying more for less. And those sauces are usually salty. Avoid them.
What it means for the chicken Chickens have access to pasture during daylight hours.
What it means for you Since the chicken uses its muscles more often, it will be slightly leaner than a traditionally raised chicken, which spends much of its life packed in a crate with other birds.
What it means for the chicken The Qur’an lays down specific rules for the way this chicken is slaughtered: while humanely cutting the chicken’s throat, the Muslim butcher must say the name of Allah.
What it means for you A lot, if you’re a devout Muslim. Otherwise, nothing at all.
What it means for the chicken Jewish religious laws govern the chicken’s entire life. Kosher chickens are fed natural grain, slaughtered humanely and their carcasses are drained of blood. (Salt is usually added to help draw it out.) What it means for you You’re buying a wholesome chicken that’s been effectively brined. That means it’ll be more moist and tender than ordinary chicken when cooked. It also means that, unless washed, the bird may contain a lot of sodium.
What it means for the chicken The chicken was raised without being fed antibiotics, which is usually standard chicken fare, whether they are sick or not.
What it means for you Dinner won’t double as unnecessary medication.
What it means for the chicken The chicken was raised according to international organic standards, which means no antibiotics, all organic feed and access to the outdoors. All organic chickens are free-range, but not all free-range chickens are organic.
What it means for you Chicken as nature intended. Like free-range birds, which are often organic, it’s a little leaner.