Chicken breast is one of the most popular meats. It’s relatively inexpensive, nearly fat free when the skin is removed, and full of nutrition and protein. However, chicken breast is notoriously difficult to cook well. At its best, baked chicken breast is moist and flavorful, while at its works, it can be dry and rubbery, resembling shoe leather more than a delectable culinary treat. By employing some simple techniques, baking chicken in the oven can become a family favorite in no time and with very little effort.
One of the reasons that baked chicken is often dry when cooked improperly has nothing to do with the cook. By its very nature, chicken breast meat can be dry. Chicken breast lacks intramuscular fat, which is responsible for adding and retaining moisture in the cut of meat. Dark meat like the thigh and leg has a lot of intramuscular fat, which keeps those cuts of chicken moist and difficult to overcook. In order to have moist breast meat, additional moisture needs to be added to the breasts before baking. One way to do this is by using a brine. A brine is a mixture of salt, water, and other flavorings.
A typical brine for chicken is made by mixing 3/4 cup of kosher salt per one gallon of water, bringing it to a boil, and then letting it cool to room temperature. Brining is an age old concept that works on the principle of osmosis. Osmosis is a chemical process in which substances move from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. In cooking, this refers to salt, water, and the flavorings. They are in high concentration in the brine and will move into the chicken meat, which has lower concentrations of these flavorings and water, creating a moist and flavorful piece of chicken. After the brine has been made and allowed to cool, place the chicken breasts and the brine into a sealable plastic bag and let soak for up to 5 hours in the refrigerator. Any longer than this will cause the chicken breasts to be too salty. The brine needs to be in contact with the chicken on all sides, so make sure the chicken is fully submerged in the brine.
Once the chicken has brined for the proper amount of time, remove it from the liquid. Next, rinse the chicken breasts under cool water and then pat dry with a paper towel. The breasts are now ready for baking. Rub the chicken breasts liberally with olive oil and place into a baking dish. The chicken is already salted, so no salt is needed, however additional flavorings can be added. One simple and delicious way to flavor chicken breasts is to sprinkle with coarse black pepper and sweet paprika. The chicken should be baked in a preheated 350 degree oven till a thermometer reads an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
The chicken breasts will now be perfectly baked, but the baking dish will have a lot of juices that can be used to create a side dish. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Add cooked white rice to the juices in the pan and taste for seasoning. If you wish, you can add frozen or canned peas to the rice for additional flavor. Serve the rice alongside the chicken for a quick and delicious meal.
For those people who are health conscious and watching their fat intake, the skin can be removed after baking. It is important to leave it on during the baking process in order to trap in moisture.