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It's hard to imagine a more popular food than chicken, or an easier food to fix. Chicken pieces and boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs are especially versatile and easy to prepare.
There are a few techniques that are frequently used to add flavor and excitement to chicken. Here are some general guidelines for using these techniques successfully.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, often called chicken cutlets or supremes, have eclipsed every other type of chicken on the market. Lean, tender, and quick-cooking, they're ideal to use in all kinds of everyday recipes like baked chicken or barbecued chicken, yet they also lend themselves to elegant preparations, such as chicken cordon bleu.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs also are becoming a big seller at the supermarket. These easy pieces appeal to those who prefer the dark meat of the chicken, yet still don't want to deal with skin and bones.
As fast and delicious as whole pieces of boneless, skinless chicken are to cook with, they're also incredibly easy to cut up and use in dozens of other popular preparations -- from kid-friendly recipes like chicken nuggets to chicken fajitas from south of the border. In this article, we'll show you how to prepare chicken:
- Flattening, Slicing, and Dicing Chicken
The techniques of flattening, slicing, and dicing chicken are among the most common chicken preparation techniques used in the kitchen today. So many delicious chicken recipes call for flattening, slicing, or dicing chicken. In this section, we'll teach you how to flatten, slice, and dice chicken to perfection.
- Rubs, Marinades, and Sauces
Most people know that, by soaking food in a marinade, that you increase its flavor. There are some special marinades, known as tenderizing marinades, that also make the food more tender, juicy, and delicious. The flavor of chicken is often enhanced by rubs, marinades, and sauces. Learn how to prepare rubs, marinades, and sauces for chicken in this section.
- Coating and Breading Chicken
Breaded chicken is another favorite preparation technique commonly used in many kitchens. In addition to showing you how to coat and bread chicken with flour and nuts, we'll also teach you a method for coating chicken that requires very little clean-up.
Flattening, Slicing, and Dicing Chicken
There are many different ways to prepare chicken. Flattening, slicing, and dicing chicken remain among the most popular because so many chicken recipes call for these preparation techniques.
Here are some poultry recipes from our collection:
When you flatten chicken, you pound to an even thickness. If a recipe calls for sliced chicken, cut across the grain for even, consistent pieces. Start dicing chicken once you have already cut it into strips.
Many of the world's greatest chicken dishes -- such as chicken marsala, chicken parmigiana, and chicken Florentine -- star boneless, skinless chicken cutlets. To promote even cooking, the uncooked chicken is gently pounded to an even thickness -- usually about 1/2 inch, though some scallopini dishes call for even thinner cutlets. The solution is easy to achieve.
Remove the tenderloin from the underside of each cutlet. Place the uncooked chicken between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, a flat circular meat tenderizer, a rolling pin, or even the bottom of a small pan, gently pound the chicken from the center to the outside until the desired thickness is reached.
Slicing & Dicing
Whole pieces of boneless, skinless chicken make great entree dishes. But if Asian stir-fry is more your speed, boneless, skinless chicken can make this fast favorite even speedier.
For perfect pieces, place the uncooked chicken on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice the chicken crosswise across the grain into 1/4-inch strips. These strips also make great Buffalo chicken tenders.
If a recipe calls for diced uncooked chicken, line up the strips on the cutting board and cut them again into chunks.
For more information on cutting chicken, check out our article on how to cut chicken. Once you have the cut of chicken you want, there may be other steps involved in getting it ready to cook, namely flavorful rubs, marinades, and coatings. We'll look at the best ways to marinade and coat chicken in the next section.
Rubs, Marinades, and Sauces
It's only natural, given the ease of cooking chicken pieces, breasts, and thighs, that there should be equally simple ways to add extra flavor and excitement to these favorites. Rubs and marinades take two different approaches to achieving this goal.
Rubs add flavor, seal in juices, and, in some cases, form a delicious crust. They can be applied just before cooking, or applied to the food and refrigerated for several hours before cooking for more pronounced flavor.
Dry rubs are seasoning blends rubbed onto foods. They often include coarsely ground black or white pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Sometimes mustard powder, brown sugar, and ground red pepper are used. Crushed herbs, such as sage, basil, thyme, and oregano are other good choices.
Paste rubs are dry seasonings held together with small amounts of wet ingredients, such as oil, crushed garlic, prepared mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or horseradish.
Marinades add flavor and also moisten the surface of the chicken to prevent it from drying out during cooking.
Flavoring marinades work quickly with chicken, especially boneless, skinless chicken pieces, so they are only marinated for a short period of time -- 15 minutes to two hours. You can choose to marinate chicken pieces in a plastic bag for easy clean-up.
Tenderizing marinades include an acidic ingredient tenderizing enzymes. These include, pineapple, papaya, kiwi, and figs. Bone-in chicken pieces can be marinated in a tenderizing marinade for a few hours. Boneless, skinless chicken pieces should be marinated in a tenderizing marinade for just a few minutes to impart flavor. such as wine, vinegar, yogurt, tomatoes, lemon juice, and lime juice, combined with herbs, seasonings, and oil.
Food Safety Tip!
Always marinade foods in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria from growing.
Marinating with a tenderizing marinade should be done in a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel container. The acid can cause a chemical reaction if an aluminum pan is used. Turn marinating foods occasionally to let the flavor infuse evenly.
Basting and Dipping Sauces
Basting and dipping sauces can add another boost to chicken. Basting is the process of brushing, spooning, or pouring liquids over the chicken, as it cooks. This helps to preserve moistness, adds flavor, and gives foods an attractive appearance. Melted butter, pan drippings, broth, or a combination of these ingredients are frequently used.
Food Safety Tip!
Never use marinade drained from the chicken as a basting sauce because of the possible build-up of bacteria.
While sometimes seasonings or flavorings are added to a basting sauce, you can prepare a separate recipe, if you prefer. Or, you can simply reserve some of the marinade before adding the chicken and use it to make a dipping sauce or to baste the meat while it is cooking.
Dipping sauces, such as barbecue sauce, are generally reserved for table use. Many dishes call for a separate dipping sauce recipe, but for a more simple presentation, bring in elements from the recipe, such as soy sauce, for the dipping sauce during the meal.
Coating and Breading Chicken
Chicken is especially delicious when it's coated or breaded with flavorful ingredients before cooking. Yet too often, the delicious coating falls off and ends up in the pan instead of on the chicken. in this section, we'll show you how to coat and bread chicken.
Bread chicken to provide a crisp outer layer. The crumbs may be seasoned with herbs for additional flavor.
To bread chicken:
- First, dip the pieces into a beaten egg that has been thinned with oil, water, or both, so it leaves only a thin layer of egg on the chicken.
- Hold the dipped piece over the bowl for a couple of seconds so the excess drips off.
- Roll the chicken through a shallow plate of flour or place the flour in a resealable plastic food storage bag.
- Add the chicken a few pieces at a time, seal the bag, and shake to coat the chicken.
As a general rule, chicken pieces should be thoroughly wiped dry with a paper towel so the coatings adhere, especially if the chicken has been marinated. Next, a thin coating of flour can help the breading stick better.
To coat chicken with a batter:
Dip each piece directly into the batter, or hold each piece over the bowl and use a spoon to pour the batter down over the chicken; shake off the excess. Or, to coat floured strips or chunks of chicken with a batter, use a fork to dip each piece in the batter and shake off the excess.
Use your fingertips to dip larger pieces.
Light, dry coatings can be used with or without the flouring step outlined above. Dip the pieces in beaten egg or melted butter. Combine the coating ingredients in a large resealable plastic food storage bag. Add the chicken pieces a few at a time, closing tightly, and shaking to coat the chicken completely.
To coat chicken with crushed nuts or coarse crumbs:
- Dip the floured chicken into a second bath of beaten egg or into mustard, yogurt, melted butter, or whatever wet mixture the recipe indicates.
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Coat the chicken pieces with a
wet mixture,such as seasoned yogurt.
- Roll the pieces in the coating.
- Press the nuts or crumbs into the chicken with your fingertips to assure even coverage.
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Use your hands to sprinkle breading.
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