When I'm reaching for a protein to whip together a quick dinner, a few items make my shortlist: salmon, extra-firm tofu, spicy Italian sausage and crispy chickpeas. Chicken breasts don't tend to factor into my weeknight dinners because, as Alton Brown once told me, "I go straight for the thighs."
If I'm eating chicken, I want it to be juicy and packed with flavor, which is not something that could be said for my longtime chicken breast "prep." I just kind of patted them dry with a paper towel, tossed them in some lemon pepper and threw them in the oven, hoping for the best.
However, new year, new me — and new chicken breasts. I set out to create a recipe for flavorful chicken breasts that never dry out. The key to this? The right preparation and the right marinade.
One thing I neglected to do in my quick and dirty (and ultimately disappointing) preparation was pounding out the chicken to an even thickness. This is a simple step, but it's one that I was unsure was really worth it when I was trying to get dinner on the table as expeditiously as possible. Spoiler: It is absolutely worth it.
Take the extra five minutes to pound your chicken breasts between two pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap. You can do this using a meat mallet, the back of a large spoon, a heavy skillet or even the heel of your hand. Once the cutlets are a uniform 3/4-inch across, they're ready to marinade.
For a marinade, we're looking for a short list of ingredients that pack a big flavor punch and aid in further tenderizing the meat. Here's what to grab from your refrigerator and pantry:
- Beer: Beer contains enzymes that help break down tough fibers in meat and prevent them from drying out. I like light lagers — Modelo Especial is nice because it has a gently orange blossom honey flavor — but feel free to experiment with your personal favorites.
- Brown Sugar: The flavor of brown sugar plays really well with the gentle hoppiness and herbiness of beer. It also caramelizes nicely, which encourages some tasty browned bits to form on the chicken breasts when cooking.
- Scallions: Scallions are one of my favorite double-duty ingredients because the green portion is a little herbier, while the white portion veers a little more garlicky.
You can, of course, add additional flavors here. Soy sauce would be nice, as would smoked paprika. Go crazy and add a squeeze of citrus! However, these three ingredients are more than enough to get a delectable dinner on the table.
Recipe: Beer and Brown Sugar Chicken Breasts
- 4 chicken breasts
- 1 12-ounce beer
- 1 scallion, finely chopped (green and white portions)
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- Neutral oil for cooking
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pound the chicken breasts to an even 2/4-inch thickness. Salt and pepper them and set aside.
- Add the beer, scallions and brown sugar to a large plastic baggie or a bowl with a lid. Shake or stir until the mixture is fully combined. Add the chicken breasts to the marinade and allow them to sit for at least 30 minutes. (The chicken can marinate for up to 24 hours in this mixture.)
- Remove the chicken breasts and salt and pepper them again.
- Prepare a sheet pan by drizzling it with neutral oil. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping halfway through.
- Once the chicken is ready, remove it from the pan and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Cutting immediately will cause the juices to escape from the chicken breast.
More simple 3-ingredient recipes:
- A 3-ingredient cheesecake, no measuring needed
- How to make savory-sweet shallot jam with 3 ingredients
- These 3-ingredient peanut butter cookies are hands-down the best cookies in the world
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