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Ok I'm going crazy with this. I've tried everything, but no matter what I do, it always results in my chicken breast burning and becoming black. Here is what I usually do:

Grab a chicken breast, wash it with water.

Next, I season it. I usually add salt, pepper, curry, and lemon pepper.

Then I grab a pan and I've tried these things to cook the chicken with:

  • Olive Oil
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Butter

All of them usually result in me burning my chicken. I set the temp at like 5.5/10 on the knob, so that it takes its time and doesn't burn. What am I doing wrong and what should I do instead?

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1  
Are you sure you're not just cooking it for way too long? I've dried out many a chicken breast by accident but I've never managed to turn one black... –  Aaronut May 1 '11 at 4:12
    
No it gets black long before its anywhere near cooked. Not fully black but a lot of parts.. –  maq May 1 '11 at 4:40
    
@Aaronut what do you use to cook it? –  maq May 1 '11 at 4:41
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Other seasonings will be fine if you use the pan-roast method as outlined below. –  daniel May 1 '11 at 19:52
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Since you mention that you are washing the chicken, make sure to dry it thoroughly before cooking. Some say that it may even be safer to not wash the chicken at all! –  ESultanik May 2 '11 at 13:55

7 Answers 7

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I suspect the blackness comes from the spices you put on the chicken burning.

Try this technique I learnt from Jamie Oliver: Season your chicken as normal. Put the pan on a high heat until it's hot (not stupid-hot, just hot). Add olive oil and the chicken skin-side down. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, take a square of baking parchment or greaseproof paper big enough to cover the pan. Fold it in half until you have a 'folded fan' shape. Hold the point so it's roughly over the middle of the pan, and tear off any excess that goes over the side of the pan. Unfold and you should have a circle of paper. Scrunch it up, then run it under a cold tap and give it a shake.

Turn the chicken over, turn the heat to medium low, then place the wet paper (a 'cartouche') on to the chicken. Finally put a heavy pan lid (the lid from a casserole is ideal) on top. Cook for another 20 minutes.

The moisture in the cartouche helps keep the chicken moist and prevents it from burning. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the breast, so do check it's cooked through before eating (cut it open and check it's not pink).

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2  
I found this to work well even without the 'cartouche'. Just putting a lid on top after turning the chicken over works fine for me. I do cook it for much less time though; usually about 15 min total seems all that's needed to cook it through for me. –  user2215 May 2 '11 at 4:38
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I am slightly paranoid about chicken after having a massive bout of food poisoning due to undercooked poultry, so 20 might be a little longer than necessary. However, the steam from the moisture under the lid still keeps it nice and moist. –  ElendilTheTall May 2 '11 at 7:08

Season chicken. Top side down in quite hot all-metal pan, with vegetable or olive oil. If your oil starts smoking, too hot. Just slightly cooler than that. Cook until seared with a nice crust. The chicken will be largely raw at this point.

Into 350F oven for 14-18 minutes.

Voila.

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3  
This is what I do too. I find cooking chicken entirely on the stove top to be a futile effort; far easier to just sear it and let the oven do the rest of the work. –  Aaronut May 1 '11 at 15:12

If you're cooking skinless, boneless chicken breasts, I would recommend pounding the breasts flat. That way, you won't have to cook them as long. Reducing the time means that it's less likely that your spices will burn. Wrap the chicken in plastic wrap or wax paper, and use a rolling pin or meat mallet until they are even. (I usually go for 1/2 inch thick or so.)

According to my favorite recipe, at 1/2 inch thick, over medium heat (5 out of 10), the breasts will cook six minutes on each side.

Plus you can then deglaze the pan with chicken broth to make a sauce. (Add broth and seasonings, cook until it's reduced by half, then remove from heat and add butter and an acid.)

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Take your pick:

  • Pound it flat before cooking - this will drastically reduce the required cooking time.
  • Brown it in oil first, then add sauce to the pan and finish it in the sauce.
  • Finish it in the oven.
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A couple answers above seem to have skirted around the question of whether you were using boneless breasts, or bone-in, skin-on breasts.

The boneless ones are certainly easier to work with, but I've had much better luck working with the full bone-in/skin-on breasts. They take longer to cook, but you've got that extra layer of skin and fat for protection. Which is really what you want, right? Keep the chicken in long enough so that it's done, but not so much that it's turned into a big, chewy burnt wad.

Also, one of the best ways to combat the dry, overdone chicken breast is a quick brine ahead of time. You can also count on the brine to deliver some of the seasonings you were looking for.

Try the brine with the bone in/skin on breast and any of the cooking techniques in the other answers (especially the finishing in the oven after a good stovetop sear as you'll be able to monitor the changes and make a more timely adjustment than if it was on the stove), and you should see good results.

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Well, there are number of things you can do to try and reduce overcooking, but I think the real answer has already been hit upon -- the seasonings. Most seasonings aren't nearly as tolerant of heat as the chicken itself is, and what you are seeing isn't so much burned chicken as burned spices. (Want to see? Try putting a bit of olive oil in the pan, add seasonings, and watch them... The pepper, and the lemon in the lemon pepper, for sure, will have problems. Not sure about curry powder.)

You may have better luck with a brine or some such to impart flavor, or adding the spices at the end, but if you are going to spice it first, you will have to cook it at a very low heat to avoid burning the spices. Salt is safe, but the rest should be used just before taking it out of the pan.

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Use a lid, works great to keep in the moisture.

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