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When I'm about to grill a chicken breast, I usually cut the breast in very thin pieces. I put some oil in a square grill pan (exactly like this one) and turn on the stove (in a very high temperature). After a few minutes, I spread the oil, turn the temperature in medium and put the breast chicken there. I usually wait until the side of the chicken that I'm looking is almost completely white. Than I turn the slice.

My cousin is a chef, so he knows a lot about food. When I said that I pressed the breast chicken against the pan, he said to me not to. He told me just to leave the slice there and, when there's a lot of water in the side of the piece that I'm looking at, then it's the time to turn it. I tried this, but the other side of the chicken is never beautiful as the part that was against the pan. Than I kinda freak out and start pressing with the fork again, afraid that I might eat a raw chicken - wich stinks!

Can you guys give me some advice? I read a lot about it on the Internet and here, tried a lot of things, but most of the advice and recipes didn't work. I'm using only salt and olive oil to marinate the chicken breast (and the oil that I put in the pan). Since I'm on a diet, I can't use sauces that are not 'natural' (like italian sauce, sold in the supermarkets).

Sometimes I believe there's something wrong with the size of the pan, considering the size of the stove burners (maybe the pan is too big for it?). Does that have some impact?

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Just my opinion, but the problem is that you're grilling (well, frying actually) chicken breasts in the first place. The meat is so lean to begin with, it's just going to cook away what little flavour/texture there is. Most people (that I know) pan-sear them for a few minutes and finish the rest in the oven. –  Aaronut Jan 21 '12 at 15:53
    
Are you slicing before you cook? –  rfusca Jan 21 '12 at 22:43
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4 Answers

The only method I have personally found to be reliable for grilling/pan-frying chicken breasts to a relatively uniform doneness is to pound them very, very thin with a mallet or rolling pin. Thin, as in scaloppine-thin, so that it cooks almost instantly in the pan.

Every other stovetop-only method is almost certainly going to produce a bland, tough cut, regardless of whether you press it down or not. As noted in my comment, my usual (lazier) method that does not involve pounding is to get a nice sear in the pan, then jam in a temperature probe and bake it in the oven until it's done (the USDA recommends 165° F, I usually don't go quite that high).

If pressing the meat actually accomplishes anything at all, it would most likely be to just squeeze out whatever tiny amount of precious juices the breast does have, and possibly give you slightly more even cooking on the exterior only; it will not help to cook the interior much faster unless, as stated above, the cut has been pounded extremely thin and flat, at which point it doesn't really matter.

P.S. Salt and olive oil is a terrible "marinade" for any cut of meat, especially a chicken breast. The salt is just going to get suspended in the oil and never reach the meat at all, and the oil itself won't have much of an effect on such a lean cut. You really need to change your marinade as well, preferably to something water-based (or at least not 100% oil).

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Hey Aaronut, thanks a lot. The problem is that I can't bake neither pound. I cut the breast in thin slices. Is that ok? Is what I'm doind considered grilling? –  Andre Jan 21 '12 at 18:04
    
@Andre: No, if you use oil then you're sautéing or pan-frying. Grilling means using no fat. I can understand maybe that you can't bake if you don't have an oven, but can't pound? Why not? You can get a decent wooden mallet for under $10. –  Aaronut Jan 21 '12 at 18:51
    
@Andre If you want succulent chicken without an oven, you should poach/simmer it and then sear it, to get a good crust. Or maybe braise it, which is similar. Aaronut, what do you think about that? –  Max Jan 24 '12 at 6:18
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Well, is the side you put down to start with beautiful looking? Put the ugly side against the plate and nobody will know! The problem with pressing it is that any juices that are in there will get squeezed out, and chicken breast doesn't have much to begin with. You might need to cook it a little longer than if you were to press it against the pan, but if it's sliced pretty thin (1cm or so?) you shouldn't have any trouble cooking it through.

A pan like that on just about any burner will have some hot spots and some cooler spots. You'll just have to get used to where it's hot and where it isn't, and maybe move stuff around accordingly.

If you want to experiment with different flavors, try a little acid (vinegar or lemon/lime juice) and/or some herbs.

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I wouldn't recommend acid to someone using a cast iron grill pan. –  Aaronut Jan 21 '12 at 15:54
    
Ok... So I'll have to get used to it, right? Not pressing anymore, just leaving it there and, when the breast is 'beautiful', maybe leave it in the cooler spot of the pan. That might work, right? My def. os beautiful: brown in bothes sides, and well cooked. My cousin can get all the chicken breasts that he makes like that. Maybe it's just my head, that is thinking that the chicken might not be well cooked. It's just that when I cut the breast into slices, the smell is so bad... Even when I put the chicken breast in the refrigerator. But when I heat it in the microwave... Damn, it's good! –  Andre Jan 21 '12 at 15:59
    
Aaronut, why not? –  Andre Jan 21 '12 at 16:00
    
BTW, when I meant beautiful and ugly sides, I meant after the grilling. –  Andre Jan 21 '12 at 16:02
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@Andre, because iron is a reactive metal and pouring acid into it will ruin the seasoning and leach iron into your food. Some iron is not a bad thing in small quantities e.g. what you get from a wine marinade or tomato sauce, but I would never throw any significant quantity of undiluted vinegar or lemon juice in there. –  Aaronut Jan 21 '12 at 16:08
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A technique to try if you don't have an oven:

Lightly oil the pan and the surface of the chicken just before frying (nothing is gained in doing it earlier)

You do not need to pound and otherwise manipulate the chicken

Fry the chicken briefly in the pan to colour the outside, then lower the temperature and place a lid over the pan to cook through (to simulate a small oven). Any lid will do (sauce pan, baking dish etc.) as long as it mostly covers the food being cooked, without touching it, and is heat proof. A folded up piece of aluminium foil will do at a pinch, but better to invest in something reusable

Cook for the time required (as if in a normal oven), and when nearly done, increase heat and remove the lid to fry off condensation, and crisp the outside as desired

Around 20 minutes cooking is the normal time with the lid on. If the chicken is burning before this time, you have the pan on too hot. Adjust time for thickness of chicken

This technique can even be used for a whole chicken (spatchcocked)

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I don't press the chicken breasts down on the pan when I cook them. This is how I cook chicken breasts - they come out cooked evenly throughout, slightly browned on the outside and lovely and moist on the inside:

We have a saute pan like this: http://sautepanrecipes.com/saute-pan/

It's smooth inside, but importantly it has a lid. I put it on a med-high heat with some olive oil to heat up for 5 mins.

I put the (skinless) chicken breasts on the chopping board and cut them in half with my knife blade parallel to the chopping board (like cutting a cake into 2 layers).

I cook the chicken breasts in the saute pan for about 5 minutes each side (I go by feel rather than by timer), but importantly I cook with the lid on. The trapped heat and steam makes sure the breasts cooks all the way through evenly and is lovely and tender and moist. Kids and the wife both love them like this.

I haven't tried, but I reckon that I could cook the breasts whole (without cutting them in half) if I turned the heat down a little bit and cooked them for a bit longer. In fact I might try that tonight!

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