Boneless chicken breasts are a staple for the American dinner table. Chicken cooks easily and quickly and is a low-fat and nutritious option for any meal. It can be combined with numerous flavors and is used in the food of just about every culture around the globe. It is also a relatively low-cost option for many cooks that are on a budget. However, there are many cooks that get tired of cooking chicken and are looking for ways to spice up their recipe box.

Baking chicken is a great option for preparation because it eliminates the need for much of the added fat that is required when frying chicken, but still provides you with a crisp outer crust and, when baked correctly, a juicy and tender inside.

It is easy when baking chicken to overcook it and end up with dry and tough chicken. In order to avoid this, a coating may be used to protect the chicken and lock in all the flavors and juices. In order to infuse your chicken with flavor and ensure a moist finished product, a marinade may be needed before adding the coating and baking. Good marinades include an oil or dairy base in order to add moisture, an acidic element to penetrate the fibrous proteins of the chicken and tenderize it, and flavorings for the chicken. Common examples of these are as follows:

OIL or DAIRY:

-olive oils, canola oils, flavored oils, low-fat buttermilk, greek yogurt, or milk

ACIDS

-vinegars such as balsamic, raspberry, apple cider, or wine vinegars
-lemon juice, lime juice, or any other citrus juice
-tomato bases

FLAVORINGS

-spices, herbs,
-prepared condiments such as a mustard (dijon or honey mustard are delicious with chicken), or a salad dressing
-wine
-honey
-sugar (use sparingly)

Chicken should be marinaded for no more than 4 hours. If the chicken is marinated too long, too many of the fibrous proteins get broken down and the chicken will become too mushy or too dry. Do not add salt to your marinade. Salt tends to draw moisture out of the meat instead of infusing it with moisture. Your chicken will end up tough and dry. Wait until right before cooking to add the salt.

After marinating, take the still-wet chicken and dredge (toss) with the coating of your choice. You may use bread crumbs, crushed crackers or cereals, or plain flour or cornmeal. Be creative!

Place the marinated and coated chicken in a greased baking pan and bake at 325˚F for 35-45 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle. You can check for doneness with a meat thermometer in order to avoid cutting into the chicken breast. The internal temperature at the thickest portion of the chicken breast should register at 165˚F, and all juices should run clear.

Baked chicken pairs great with any vegetable and a variety of starches. Instead of the typical rice side dish, try it with herbed potatoes, moroccan cous cous, brown rice, quinoa, or a whole wheat pasta. Chicken is also paired often with certain fruits such as apples, cranberries, and the like. Don’t be afraid to try new things and new combinations when preparing dinner for the family!

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