Chicken breasts are not very exciting, but they are a versatile protein with a pretty healthy image, and for that reason people tend to buy and cook a lot of them. Unfortunately, their lopsided, teardrop shape makes them a pain to cook well, and one can end up with a piece of meat that is juicy but flavourless on one end, and dry and charred on the other.
Photos by Claire Lower.
But you don't have to be resigned to this fate. All you need to do is show that breast who's boss with a bit of a pounding. Pounding a chicken breast is quite easy, and it has a many advantages. A piece of meat with a uniform thickness is going to cook much more evenly, and a thinner piece of meat is going to cook much more quickly. You're also mechanically tenderising the meat, which is kind of like a mamma bird pre-chewing baby bird's food, only much less gross. This means you're going to get juicier, tastier chicken on the table faster, which is the best of all possible outcomes. (Also, flatter chicken makes for better chicken sandwiches, and chicken sandwiches are very important.)
Honestly, who has the time for this?
To pound out a chicken breast, all you need to do is wrap it up and whack it. A lot of people use plastic wrap to cover their breasts, but I prefer a 4L freezer bag.
Not only is the thicker material less prone to tearing but, once you're done pounding, you can leave the breast in the bag, and toss in whatever seasoning or marinade you were planning to use. (Also, you don't have to mess with plastic wrap, which is a big bonus.)
Once your chicken is nestled down in its bag, you are ready to take it pound town, my friend. Just grab a heavy, blunt object — I use a metal soup ladle but a frying pan or sauce pan works well too — and whack it, starting from the thickest part of the breast and working your way outward.
Take your time, and check in with the chicken every few whacks, as too much enthusiasm on your end can cause the meat to tear. Once you have everything evened out to your desired thickness — 2cm is pretty good — you're ready to season, marinade and cook your chicken however you desire. Any marinades or brining solutions you use will now penetrate the meat in all sectors at the same rate, resulting in a meal that is truly flavorful from start to finish.
In addition to cooking more evenly and taking in flavours in a uniform way, pounded out chicken breasts are also the best choice for all sorts of classic dishes and, once you master the art of pounding, you may find yourself lost in a world of chicken piccata, Marsala and cordon bleu.
You do not, however, have to get fancy. I usually just give mine a healthy sprinkle of salt and pepper, then pan fry them in a bit of butter for a few minutes on each side. Serve with some sort of roasted vegetable, and you have a very tasty, not at all dry dinner that took you almost no time at all.
This is part of The Grown Up Kitchen, Lifehacker's series designed to answer your most basic culinary questions and fill in any gaps that may be missing in your home chef education.