Yield
Serves 4

For years I had zero respect for boneless, skinless chicken breasts and questioned why anyone bothered with a food so bland and oppressively dry that eating it feels like chewing on a towel. But as I set off on the path to eat better, I couldn’t help but come face-to-face with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. They’re lean, full of protein, versatile, and, as it turns out, capable of carrying a ton of flavor and juiciness if you cook them right. To do this, I butterfly the breast and pound the meat thin, so it cooks evenly and quickly without drying out. This also increases the surface area of meat touching the pan, leading to that deeply flavorful crust I want. Then I make a mixture of Tuscan flavors—olive oil, chopped sage and rosemary, lemon, and garlic—and literally pound it directly into both sides of the breast. After just 90 seconds in a hot pan, the payoff is an insanely tender, delicious chicken breast that has all the succulence of dark meat. Another perk to this method is that the size of the thinned-out meat tricks you into thinking you’re getting a lot more than just one breast. (When your plate looks full, you tend to believe you’re eating more and feel full as a result.)

The best results come from smaller chicken breasts— they’re easier to pound out to a uniform thickness. You can easily prepare the breasts ahead of time—after step 2, just cover the chicken in plastic wrap and refrigerate, and they’ll keep for up to 2 days. You can also cook more than one at a time, but be sure you don’t overcrowd the pan, or you’ll have a hard time developing a caramelized crust.

  • 4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 12 large fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
  • Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • Grated zest of 2 small lemons
  • 2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons for cooking
  • 4 lemon wedges

1. Starting at the thicker side, make a lengthwise horizontal cut into the top two-thirds of a chicken breast, stopping before cutting all the way through. Fold it open like a book. (The chicken breast should still be in one piece.) Put the breast between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound it out on both sides with the flat side of a meat tenderizer, working from the inside out, until it’s spread to double its original size and about 1/4 inch thick. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

2. Pile the sage, rosemary, lemon zest, and garlic on a cutting board and chop together until blended. In a bowl, combine the herb mixture, salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and 8 teaspoons of the olive oil. Divide half of the herb paste evenly across one side of the 4 chicken breasts and rub it in. Cover with plastic wrap again and lightly pound in the seasoning with the toothy side of the meat tenderizer. Flip the breasts, rub the remaining herb paste into the other side of the chicken breasts. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly pound in the seasoning.

Madrone Tea Bark Eggs

Butterfly the breast, making a lengthwise cut into the top two-thirds. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and pound on both sides with the flat side of a meat tenderizer. Unwrap and add the seasoning, then rewrap and pound in the seasoning with the toothy side of the meat tenderizer. (Photos: Michael Harlan Turkell)

3. In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over high heat. Wait 2 minutes, or until it’s smoking hot, add 1 chicken breast, put a weight on it (a teakettle or heavy pan) and cook for 45 seconds. Flip, add the weight, and cook for another 45 seconds. Transfer to a plate, and let it rest for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with the remaining chicken breasts. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over each flavor-pounded chicken just before serving.

Variations


While Tuscan flavors are my natural inclination, I often make one of the Flavor-Pounded Chicken variations below. Except for the couple instances that I’ve noted, steps 1 and 3 are the same for all. Once you get an understanding of the process, I encourage you to follow your own preferences and start pounding whatever flavor you like into the chicken.

Indian

Indian chicken

Indian (Photo: Michael Harlan Turkell)

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

For step 2: In a bowl, combine the cumin, turmeric, onion powder, coriander, salt, several grinds of pepper, and the olive oil. Season and pound as described in the main recipe.

Maple Spice

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons maple syrup

For step 2: In a bowl, combine the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and several grinds of pepper. Divide half the spice mixture evenly across one side of the 4 chicken breasts and drizzle 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup over each. Rub in the seasoning and maple syrup. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly pound in the seasoning with the toothy side of the meat tenderizer. Flip and rub the rest of the spice mixture into the other side of the chicken breasts. Drizzle another 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup over each breast. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly pound in the seasoning.

Italian-American

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 4 teaspoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste

For step 2: In a bowl, combine the garlic powder, oregano, salt, Parmesan, several grinds of pepper, and the olive oil. Divide half the oregano mixture evenly across one side of the 4 chicken breasts and add 1/4 teaspoon tomato paste to each breast. Rub in the seasoning and tomato paste. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly pound in the seasoning with the toothy side of the meat tenderizer. Flip and divide the rest of the oregano mixture evenly across the other side of the chicken breasts. Add another 1/4 teaspoon of tomato paste to each breast and rub it in. Cover with plastic wrap before lightly pounding again.

Japanese

Japanese (Photo: Michael Harlan Turkell)

Thai

  • Grated zest of 4 limes
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind paste (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
  • 4 lime wedges

For step 2: In a bowl, combine the lime zest, ginger, cilantro, cardamom, salt, fish sauce, and tamarind paste (if using). Divide half the mixture evenly across one side of the 4 chicken breasts and rub it in. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly pound in the seasoning with the toothy side of the meat tenderizer. Flip and rub the rest of the mixture into the other side of the chicken breasts. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly pound in the seasoning.

For step 3: Substitute coconut oil for olive oil and squeeze a wedge of lime over each flavorpounded chicken just before serving.

Japanese

  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons dried seaweed granules (dulse, kelp, nori, any kind works)
  • 4 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt

For step 2: In a bowl, combine the lemon zest, ginger, seaweed granules, soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt. Season and pound as described in the main recipe.

Flavor-Pounded Chicken is excellent over greens. Toss arugula and sliced red onions with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Make a bed of salad on a plate and top it with an FPC. The residual heat from the chicken works its way into the greens and does something magical.

Reprinted from A Good Food Day by Marco Canora, Clarkson Potter 2014.