I Love Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts and I’m Not Ashamed to Say It
Here’s a confession: I like boneless skinless chicken breasts. In fact, I buy them often. On purpose.
I got to know the boneless skinless chicken breast during the fat-obsessed ‘90s of my youth, when we sautéed everything in PAM and ate mounds and mounds of pasta tossed in olive oil–free tomato sauce. (In those days, that’s how people tried to lose weight.)
Later came the chicken breast backlash. Lovers of chicken thighs—a fattier, more flavorful cut—threw off their saturated fat–counting shackles and declared their dark meat devotion. Countless cooking sites and chefs recommended that we shun the breast in favor of the thigh.
And they had good reasons. Chicken thighs hold up infinitely better than breasts in fricassees, stews, and other braised dishes. They’re great broiled, or turned into sheet-pan dinners.
I got on the thigh bandwagon myself, stocking my freezer with boneless skinless thighs, throwing them into my slow cooker and reveling in their capacity to retain moistness after hours of simmering. “I’m really into chicken thighs now!” I’d say to my friends. “They’re so flavorful. And cheaper!”
But in the back of my mind I knew the real reason I had thrown chicken breasts under the bus. They’d turned passé. Lame. Basic. “‘Breast’ is a dirty word now,” my colleague David noted. He’s right. Boring old chicken breasts have no place in a time when words like “offal” and “locavore” fall so casually out of people’s mouths. Chicken breasts are the straight-legged, medium-blue jeans of the food world. The pair you don’t want to get rid of because they’re so comfortable, but that you’d never wear out with friends.
Well forget that. Today, I’m putting on my comfy jeans and owning my love of the chicken breast. Because you know what? Sometimes the fattiness of chicken thighs is a turn-off. Sometimes I want to eat something—yes, I’ll say it—sort of bland.
But mostly I miss—and crave—the comfort of a simple chicken cutlet.
Yes, yes, I love a pan-roasted chicken thigh as much as the next person. But there’s nothing like a chicken breast that’s been pounded thin, dipped in flour or breadcrumbs, and then pan-fried in olive oil and butter until crispy and golden brown. The magic of this preparation is its versatility, an unexpected advantage of that aforementioned blandness. You can serve the golden cutlet as is, with just a wedge of lemon on the side. Or you can slice it into strips, place it next to a puddle of ketchup, call it chicken fingers, and hope your children don’t balk.
You can dredge it in crushed pretzels instead of breadcrumbs. You can add a handful of grated Parmesan to the coating. Like mushrooms? After the chicken is cooked, throw sliced mushrooms in the pan with some dry Marsala and a glug of cream. My favorite way to eat a crispy cutlet? Topped with a 10-second sauce of melted butter and capers. So good. So easy.
But not too easy. And that’s key. Dark meat is easy—all that extra fat in chicken thighs gives cooks a cushion. Breasts, on the other hand, are easy to overcook, and easy to under-season. That’s a big part of why chicken breasts started being scorned in the first place. But I know that when you put the work in, when you get the chicken breast right, there’s nothing like them. And I’m not ashamed to say it. Anymore.
Originally published on Epicurious.com