A Shared Tradition: Chicken Breast

May 18, 2012

In her biweekly column, A Shared TraditionCIA grad and amateur food historian Molly Siegler cruises around the world (and into the depths of her pantry) to explore the versatility of a single food item. 

This week: Molly stands up for the humble chicken breast.

Roast Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Artichoke Hearts
Roast Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Artichoke Hearts (photo by James Ransom)

Molly

When it comes to choosing a cut of chicken in the increasingly fashionable world of food, dark meat reigns supreme. I will admit to preferring a (perfectly cooked) chicken breast over any other cut -- even if it expels me from the cool group. However, I’m not the only one with chicken breast on the brain. Both Food52 and Mark Bittman recently featured the much-maligned lean portion.

The keys to a beautifully cooked chicken breast are timing (cook until just done, never longer) and the addition of moisture. Chicken breast happily accepts flavoring agents, which only help its moisture-seeking cause. Slather on an herbaceous sauce, drown the breasts in an acidic marinade, or lacquer them with a sweet glaze on the grill. 

Ukranian
Chicken Kiev ran its course in supper clubs during the '60s, but the crunchy, buttery chicken capsule is ripe for a comeback.

  • A pounded chicken breast encloses the molten core.
  • Create a compound butter with the unsalted variety, fresh dill, lemon juice, and a dash of cayenne.
  • Use the standard breading procedure, ending with thyme-flecked breadcrumbs, to develop the essential Kiev crust. 

Sicilian
Involtini references the pounded, filled, and rolled meat dishes popular on this southern Italian island.

  • Gently hammer the chicken breast until it’s quite thin and ready to roll.
  • Prosciutto lines the interior of the chicken providing an earthy, chewy layer.
  • Fresh Pecorino is crumbled and mixed with minced garlic and parsley for the filling.
  • Toasted pine nuts, currants, and orange zest solidify the Sicilian vibe.

Ethiopian
Chicken breast is used to soak up heat in the classic doro tibs. For a recipe, check out this site and scroll down to "meat dishes."

  • Cubing the chicken ensures equal distribution in the stewing process.
  • Niter kibbeh is the spiced cooking oil at the heart of Ethiopian fare. 
  • The chile-base berbere permeates the sauté with its complex heat.
  • Scoop up the saucy chicken with spongy, sour injera.

Sichuan
A whirl in a wok generates habit-forming dry-fried chicken.

  • Chicken breast is best for this preparation as it quickly engulfs the accompanying flavors of the dish.
  • Dried hot red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns are left whole to infuse the cooking oil.
  • Chile bean paste amps up the heat while adding body to the stir-fry.
  • Celery and scallions provide a necessary dose of green.

Chicken Cutlets Grilled in Charmoula with Quick-Cured Lemon Confit Pan Roasted Chicken Breast with Dijon Sauce and Crispy Pancetta
Chicken Cutlets Grilled in Charmoula with Quick-Cured Lemon Confit and Pan Roasted Chicken Breast with Dijon Sauce and Crispy Pancetta. Photos by James Ransom (left) and Sarah Shatz

These are just a few of the ways I like to travel by way of the chicken breast. What other regionally inspired flavors would you use to make this versatile cut your own? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Do you love a good food theme as much as I do? Tell me what food items or themes you'd like to see featured in this column and your idea could be the subject of an upcoming post!

Like this post? See Molly's previous topic: Black Tea.

Molly is a chef and food educator living and cooking in northern Wisconsin. When she's not dreaming up themed menus, she's dishing out other delicious content as the editorial assistant for the Whole Foods Market Cooking program.

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4 Comments Add a Comment
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    alexandracooks says: Way to take a stand, Molly! It's unfortunate that chicken breasts get such a bad rap, when it's really not their fault... they're never cooked properly! If short ribs were pan-seared and served tough as nails all the time, they'd get a bad rap, too. I love a properly cooked chicken breast, too. Thanks for sharing. Those chicken cutlets with charmoula are making me drool.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Love the short ribs parallel -- this is precisely what I mean. I hope you make the chicken cutlets! The lemon confit is such a dreamy addition.

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    Jimmy Chews says: Delicious read as usual!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Thank you for reading!

    about 1 year ago

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