Sticking with our theme of returning to basics for the start of 2019, we took a look at one of our bestselling proteins, the boneless, skinless chicken breast. The chicken breast is so versatile, so very fundamental to American cuisine, that at times it seems there are so many possible preparations that the home cook is overwhelmed, and they end up, once again, salted, peppered, and roasted until done — familiarly plain.
In the spirit of the new year, we came up with a few of the simplest possible ways to take your chicken breasts from “boring healthy dinner” to a meal the whole family will be asking as soon as they take the last bite. None takes more than a few hours of simple advance planning or ingredient consideration, and some can be made on-the-fly. Without further ado…
3 Simple Ways to Elevate Chicken Breasts
Like many of the preparations presented in this article, the beauty of the stuffed chicken breast is that it can be prepared every night of the week, never with the same mix of ingredients. From cream cheese and bacon bits to melted provolone and spinach, the possibilities for filling your boneless breasts present a canvas unto themselves. In general, you’ll need some gooey foundation (that’s where the cream cheese or melted provolone comes in) into which any number of family-favorite ingredients can be suspended. (Note: Be careful not to overstuff!)
Begin by combining your filling ingredients. For this example, let’s use cream cheese, diced artichoke hearts, and diced sundried tomatoes – a Mediterranean affair. With a sharp knife at the ready, lay the chicken breast on a cutting board and slice horizontally about halfway through the breast – any more and the chicken will fully butterfly, any less and your filling will have no stable cavity to make a home.
Next, season liberally with salt, pepper, and herbs around the exterior and new interior of breast. Add the cream cheese mix into the pocket. Allow a few minutes for the seasoning to take hold, then set the oven to 450 degrees, place the breasts on an oiled sheet, and let ‘em go — they probably won’t need more than 20 minutes (they’re ready to pull at an internal temperature of 145 degrees).
Just as with stuffing chicken breasts, skewering allows for a canvas of creativity beyond the meat itself, and the whole family is invited. By presenting a plate of cubed chicken breasts alongside roughly chopped vegetables, you welcome the kids to take part in dinner preparation, and the best part?: barring some unforeseen disaster, there’s almost no way to mess this one up.
For skewers in my childhood home, my dad would bring home a pack of chicken breasts and an economical choice of beef for cubing and skewering. Vegetables ranged from cherry tomatoes to simple white mushrooms, often with large chunks of onion or bell pepper in the mix.
But the best chicken skewers I can remember were from Hawaiian barbecue stands at the neighborhood summer carnival, where a piping hot stick of juicy, sauced-up chicken cost $2 and fed a child for the whole night. Next time it’s family kebab night, whip up a concoction of teriyaki sauce and honey into a thick, sugary paste that will caramelize like crazy over the hot fire. Load up wooden skewers with chunks of chicken breast, and douse with your honey sauce. Add vegetables if you’d like (it’s a simple way to sneak them into a child’s diet), and enjoy a sweet treat of juicy meat goodness. (Serve in a single sheet of tin foil if you really want to get the carnival feeling.)
3. CHICKEN PARMESAN
Speaking of childhood favorites in the family kitchen, my brother and I would beg Mom for chicken Parmesan whenever the question of dinner arose. With a perfect browned cheese on top, sweet and tangy marinara sauce and a breadcrumb coating to bring it all together, this was the dream meal. And while it’s a little more involved than our previous recommendations, it packs a ton of wow-power for a few easy steps.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Provolone cheese, shredded
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 cups marinara
1 small can whole skinned tomatoes
Salt and pepper to tase
Combine eggs and Parmesan. Beat together lightly until Parmesan is evenly spread.
In adjacent bowl, place breadcrumbs.
Dip chicken breasts into egg and cheese mixture until liberally coated. Next, dip into breadcrumbs until coated. Allow coated breasts to rest a few minutes while coating comes together.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat a small amount of oil in stovetop pan. A few at a time, brown coated chicken breasts on both sides until golden brown.
Place browned breasts in oven-safe glass pan to a form a layer. Spread provolone cheese across tops of breasts. Add marinara, whole tomatoes, and fresh basil.
Place pan in oven and cook breasts for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown and breasts reach temperature.
Allow to cool, and serve by the breast, with heaping marinara.