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Dress up boring chicken breast

Diedra Laird/TNS Creamy Balsamic Skillet Chicken combines sliced breast and mushrooms.

Diedra Laird/TNS
Creamy Balsamic Skillet Chicken combines sliced breast and mushrooms.

 

When you need to turn out a fast, tasty and healthful weeknight dinner, it ought to be so easy to reach for skinless, boneless chicken breasts.

They cook quickly, you can do endless things with them and while they cost a little more than other cuts, what you get is all meat, no waste.

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Except for the downsides: Skinless, boneless chicken breasts can be boring. If you overcook them, you end up sawing away at a plank of compressed leather. With no bone or skin, you don’t get much to carry flavor, either. (Yes, I know – you could cook a skin-on breast and throw away the golden, crispy skin, but let’s face it: It’s golden, crispy skin. Who has the willpower to resist that?)

I decided to hit the kitchen with a big tray of naked breasts and figure out what really makes a difference in turning them into fantastic weeknight dinners.

I tasted several cooking methods, and came up with five dishes that use things you either have on hand or can grab in a supermarket on the way home – and still have a shopping basket light enough to use the speed lane.

CREAMY BALSAMIC SKILLET CHICKEN

4 servings

1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

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1 small yellow onion, sliced

2 to 3 cloves minced garlic (or about ½ teaspoon bottled minced garlic)

8 ounces mushrooms (stem ends trimmed), quartered

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided

½ cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

¼ cup heavy cream

1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried

Cut each chicken breast lengthwise into 2 or 3 strips, then cut each strip in two. Cover with plastic wrap and pound lightly, to make small cutlets. Set aside.

In a wide skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes, then add the garlic and cook 1 minute.

Combine the flour, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper on a plate. Dip each piece of chicken and place in the skillet with the onions and garlic. Cook, turning occasionally, until just a little golden and browned but not cooked all the way through. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate and set aside.

Add the chicken broth and balsamic vinegar to the pan, then add the mushrooms and remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits and turning the mushrooms. Cook 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the cream, then return all the chicken pieces to the pan, turning to coat with the sauce. Simmer about 3 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thickens a little. Sprinkle with the thyme and serve.

– From “The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook,” by Mary Younkin (Page Street, 2016)

CHICKEN WITH GOAT CHEESE VINAIGRETTE AND PASTA

4 servings

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

A goat cheese vinaigrette tops golden brown chicken breasts and pasta.

A goat cheese vinaigrette tops golden brown chicken breasts and pasta.

1 teaspoon butter

About 6 ounces uncooked penne pasta

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 ounces (½ cup) crumbled fresh goat cheese

About 1 cup small tomatoes (grape or cherry), halved or quartered

Place the chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a kitchen mallet to flatten the thick end and create an even thickness. Pat dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta, stirring so it doesn’t stick, and cook as directed, about 10 to 11 minutes, and drain.

While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Place the chicken in the skillet, smooth side down, and cook about 9 minutes, until golden underneath. Turn the chicken and spread the tomatoes around the skillet. Continue cooking, turning the tomatoes occasionally, about 6 minutes or until the chicken is done.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, parsley and pepper flakes. Fold in the crumbled goat cheese.

Divide between plates. Top each serving with a chicken breast and some of the tomatoes. Drizzle the goat cheese dressing over the chicken and serve.

– Adapted from realsimple.com

HUMMUS-CRUSTED CHICKEN ON VEGETABLES

4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 to 3 cups diced butternut squash

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

Hummus makes a nice crust over chicken breasts roasted with butternut squash.

Hummus makes a nice crust over chicken breasts roasted with butternut squash.

Salt and pepper

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 cup hummus (plain, or you could try a flavored one, like red pepper)

1 lemon

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the oil in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Add the squash and onions, stirring them around to coat with the oil, then spread them in an even layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then place on top of the vegetables. Cover each breast with hummus, spreading to the edges. Squeeze the lemon juice over the whole dish, then sprinkle with a little smoked paprika.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, the hummus coating is lightly browned and the vegetables are fork-tender.

– Adapted from www.gimmesomeoven.com

PIMENTO-CHEESE-STUFFED BAKED CHICKEN BREASTS

The version of pimento cheese you use is important. A thick, coarse style is important so it doesn’t melt too fast.

4 servings

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

Skinless, boneless chicken breasts are stuffed with pimento cheese and then baked.

Skinless, boneless chicken breasts are stuffed with pimento cheese and then baked.

1 egg

½ to 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (or panko)

2 to 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

¼ to ½ cup pimento cheese, prepared or homemade

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and coat lightly with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the egg in a shallow bowl and lightly beat. Spread the bread crumbs on a plate.

Place each chicken breast on a work surface. Holding it flat with your hand, use a sharp knife to cut into it from the side but not all the way through, opening it like a book. Spread about 2 tablespoons pimento cheese inside, then fold over the top and press to close.

Turn the breast over, smooth side down, and place in the beaten egg and then into the crumbs, just coating the top side. Place on the lined pan, crumb side up. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

Drizzle each breast with a little oil and bake for 30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the chicken is cooked through.

APRICOT-CHILE GLAZED CHICKEN BREASTS

4 servings

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 teaspoon salt

A savory/sweet apricot glaze dresses up a simple skinless, boneless chicken breast.

A savory/sweet apricot glaze dresses up a simple skinless, boneless chicken breast.

½ cup apricot preserves

¼ cup bottled chile sauce

1½ tablespoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon butter

Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle with salt. If you have time, refrigerate, uncovered, for 30 minutes (optional). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan, combine the apricot preserves, chile sauce, mustard and garlic powder. Heat over medium-low, stirring, until the preserves are melted and it’s all combined.

Heat the vegetable oil and butter in an ovenproof skillet over medium-low heat until it shimmers. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and place each breast in the pan, smooth side down. Cook for about 4 minutes, until it’s starting to brown underneath.

Turn the chicken breasts and pour the sauce over them, making sure you coat the chicken well. Place the skillet in the oven and bake about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with the thickened sauce in the pan drizzled over it.

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