When I hear the words "baked chicken breast," I can't say that I'm terribly excited by the sound of it. I can think only of dry, relatively flavorless meat, which is probably destined to be mixed with plenty of mayonnaise in a chicken salad later. The expertise required to produce juicy, tender, and flavorful meat—and the fear of undercooking chicken—has led to so many overcooked chicken breasts that cooking them whole seems impossible.
But like any cut of meat, when you choose something bone-in and skin-on, the game changes. The bone helps even the distribution of heat, while the skin protects the exterior, which can dry out before the inside is cooked (and crisp skin is delicious, too). With this technique, I found myself cutting into a juicy chicken breast with crisp skin in under an hour.
The secret is the high temperature (which is why I decided to call it "roasted chicken breast" instead) and cooking it on a wire rack, which speeds the cooking of the meat and crisping of the skin, so that the interior reaches temperature as quickly as possible. Then, you simply slice it off the bone and serve it fanned out on the plate.
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated.
- 2 whole bone-in chicken breasts, or 4 split breasts, trimmed of excess fat, about 3 pounds total
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Herb or spices for the butter, such as minced garlic or parsley (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Heat an oven to 450°F. Line a broiler pan with foil and set a rack on top of it. In a small bowl, combine the butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt. If desired, add herbs or other flavorings to the butter.
Season the both sides of the chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper. Using a finger, carefully loosen the skin from the meat and slide the butter underneath it. Using the back of a spoon, carefully spread the butter evenly under the skin of each breast.
Rub the skin of each breast with vegetable oil. Place the breasts on the rack and roast until the skin is golden brown and the meat is cooked through, 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes.
Carve the breast off the breastbone and rib cage, then slice cross-wise. Serve immediately.