How to Cook the Best Seared Chicken Breast

Boneless chicken breasts are easy to find, low in fat, high in protein, and consistently tender, all factors that contribute to them being the most popular cut of poultry in the country. Yet despite the fact that we eat chicken breast all the time, it can be surprisingly hard to make just right. By its nature, the cut is unevenly shaped, which means it’s prone to being either slightly undercooked or grossly overcooked.

Thankfully, we’ve got a no-frills method for cooking chicken breast that’s free of measurements or complicated techniques. Feel free to store it in your memory and pull it out of your back pocket whenever you’d like.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A medium frying pan
  • A metal spatula or tongs
  • A meat thermometer (optional)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Olive oil
  • Two boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper (poured into small bowls so you don’t have to touch the containers after you’ve touched the raw chicken)

Here’s what to do:

  1. Pour enough olive oil into the frying pan to generously coat the bottom. Heat on the stovetop over medium heat until the oil shimmers, about three to four minutes.
  2. While the oil heats up, generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
  3. Carefully place the chicken breasts in the pan starting with one end closest to you to avoid splattering hot oil on yourself. Don’t move the chicken around, because a nice golden-brown crust is forming.
  4. After about six to seven minutes, flip the chicken using the metal spatula or tongs. (If the chicken sticks to the pan, it’s not ready to be flipped yet. Wait about one more minute and then it should release, but don’t force it.) Cook the second side for about six to seven minutes.
  5. Check the thickest part of the breasts with the meat thermometer—the chicken is ready when the temperature has reached 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can poke one of the breasts with a knife; if the juices run clear, the chicken is ready. If it’s not ready, cook it one more minute on each side. (Larger breasts—for example, 10 ounces apiece—may take up to eight minutes per side.)
  6. Remove the chicken to a plate or cutting board, tent it with foil, and let it rest for five minutes before serving.

Follow these steps, and you’ll wind up with a well-crusted, juicy piece of chicken breast every time. And if you’re hoping to step up your game a little bit, here are a few recipes that highlight the same technique of searing chicken breasts.

Buttermilk Chicken with Peach-Tomato Salsa


Because buttermilk acts as a tenderizer, placing the chicken breasts in a buttermilk, lemon, and olive oil marinade 12 to 24 hours ahead of time guarantees a succulent finished product. Get our Buttermilk Chicken with Peach-Tomato Salsa recipe.

Basic Chicken Fajitas


Marinated and pan-grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the base for classic Tex-Mex chicken fajitas. Serve them with charred peppers, warm tortillas, guacamole, salsa, and sour cream. Get our Basic Chicken Fajitas recipe.

Crispy-Skin Chicken Breasts


This recipe for crackling-skinned chicken breasts starts with boneless chicken breasts that still have the skin on them. It follows the same searing method outlined above, but also calls for the use of a second skillet to press the chicken down, ensuring every bit of the skin browns. Get our Crispy-Skin Chicken Breasts recipe.

Easy Thai Grilled Chicken Breasts


To make our Thai-inspired grilled chicken, begin with boneless, skin-on chicken breasts, and flatten them slightly by pounding on them with a mallet to ensure even cooking. Marinate the chicken in a cilantro, garlic, brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy paste before cooking in a grill pan. Get our Easy Thai Grilled Chicken Breasts recipe.

Korean Grilled Chicken


For this version of Korean dak gui, start by pounding chicken breasts to a half-inch thickness. Flavor with a garlic, soy, sugar, and sesame sauce, then sear on a grill pan until nice grill marks develop. Get our Korean Grilled Chicken recipe.

Maple-Mustard BBQ Chicken


Our recipe for barbecued chicken utilizes an outdoor grill, but you can actually use a grill pan on the stovetop instead, and follow the technique outlined in the steps above. Serve the finished chicken with classic barbecue accompaniments, like baked beans and a side salad. Get our Maple-Mustard BBQ Chicken recipe.

Chicken Breast with Fresh Sage


Here’s an elegant chicken breast dish that highlights a classic flavor combination: lemon, butter, and sage. Get the recipe here.

Crispy Chicken Breasts with Chermoula and Escarole

Bon Appetit

You could buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this dish, or, as it suggests, buy the chicken bone-in (which is cheaper and more flavorful) and remove the bones yourself just before cooking. A bed of escarole dressed with chermoula, a North African spice and herb mix, helps keep things interesting. Get the recipe here.

This story was originally published on March 8, 2010, by the CHOW Food Team.

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