How to Steam-Cook a Chicken Breast

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Steaming produces moist, tender chicken ready for slicing and including in pasta dishes or salads, or shredding for use in soups. Steaming chicken breasts also offers the possibility of preparing everything in one tower, vegetables included, to make a dinner that can be virtually fat-free.

From Frozen

Chicken breast can be steamed from frozen, but count on at least twice the cooking time as for thawed meat. As an alternative, thaw the breasts first in the microwave, arranged in a single layer on a dish covered with plastic wrap, with ¼ cup of water added. Because microwaves differ in their power, use each model’s own defrost setting based on the weight of the chicken. The microwave defrosts on a low power to avoid cooking the meat. If there is no defrost setting, work in 2-minute sessions at the microwave's low setting, checking the progress after each blast. Let the chicken stand for 10 minutes for bone-in chicken, 5 minutes for boneless. Thawed chicken breasts should be steamed as soon as possible.

Adding Flavor

Because chicken breasts are so lean -- one reason they are such a potent choice for healthy steamer dinners -- they can dry out easily and lack flavor. Choosing bone-in breasts allows slightly more flavor, as does leaving the skin on. However, limp, puckered chicken skin fresh out the steamer is hardly an appetizing proposition. A straightforward solution is to brine the chicken breasts first, using roughly ¼ cup of kosher salt per quart of water*, for around 15 to 30 minutes, covered in the refrigerator. Alternatively, marinate the chicken breasts in an Asian-inspired combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, chopped garlic, chili flakes, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil. Place the chicken in a resealable plastic bag and add the marinade, then refrigerate up to 2 hours. Any longer and the acids in the sauce can compromise the chicken’s texture.

Steam Tower

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and place the breasts in a single layer in a bamboo steamer or steaming rack over a large pot filled a third of the way with boiling water; don't fill the pot so full that the water reaches the chicken. Aim for a snug fit over the pot. Cover the steamer with its lid and simmer the pot on a rolling boil for 20 minutes. For bone-in breasts, allow approximately five minutes longer. Remove the steamer and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes. To boost the flavors, dress the base of the steamer basket with lemon slices and herbs, such as basil, thyme or marjoram, lay the chicken breasts on top, and cover with another layer of lemon slices and herbs. Scatter a few crushed garlic cloves among the breasts, too. Place the steamer basket over a pot of boiling water and steam for 15 to 20 minutes.

Internal Steaming

To steam the chicken with its own moisture, wrap the breasts individually in aluminum foil, dressing each with olive oil, lime juice, salt and chopped vegetables such as zucchini and sweet peppers. Place the packets in a roasting pan, cover the base with ½ inch of water, and roast in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes. For chicken with a caramelized sheen, pat the chicken breasts dry and saute for just 1 minute, on one side only, in hot oil or butter over a medium heat. Flip the breasts, turn the heat down low, cover the pan tight and cook for 10 minutes on the lowest setting. At this point, the moisture inside the chicken breasts starts to build and steam the meat. Do not remove the lid during these 10 minutes. Remove the lid, turn off the heat and check to see if the internal temperature is 165 F.

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