Pan-cooked chicken offers perhaps the largest number of possible chicken dishes based purely on different cooking techniques. From classic fried chicken to chicken stir-fries, you can easily cook chicken in whole pieces or cut into smaller portions with either a nonstick or heavy-bottomed pan. The type of pan -- and the cut of chicken -- you choose depends on the cooking method and the dish.
Pan-fried chicken is similar to deep fried chicken, only the chicken is only partially submerged in oil. Marinate chicken pieces -- bone-in or boneless, skin-on or skin-less -- in salt, garlic and buttermilk for the standard, crunchy fried chicken, or, for a twist, use sweet tea to give your chicken a Southern flavor. Double coat your chicken -- once in seasoned flour or flour and cornmeal, an egg wash, followed by another dip in the flour -- before frying, and let your coated chicken rest for 10 minutes before frying.
To cook, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and pour 1 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, such as a cast iron pan, and heat until the oil reaches 375 F. Carefully lower one piece of chicken at a time into the pan, never crowding the pan. Cook the chicken until the part submerged in oil is crunchy and a golden brown, before flipping the chicken over with tongs. Once both sides are browned and crispy, drain the chicken on paper towel and transfer to a broiling rack, placing your chicken on a center rack in the oven. Cook until the internal temperature reads 165 F with a meat thermometer.
Sauted chicken also needs high heat to cook, but it requires much less fat. This method is ideal for smaller pieces of chicken, such as a chicken dice or ground chicken. Season the chicken either before or during cooking. For example, marinate chicken strips in cayenne, olive oil, garlic powder and lime juice for spicy chicken strips that are perfect for fajitas. Or, have minced garlic and ground black pepper on hand to add to the chicken as it's cooking.
To saute, heat your pan -- an anodized aluminum or stainless steel pan is best -- over medium to high heat, coating it with a thin layer of oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chicken pieces in small quantities to the oil, gently shaking the pan -- or turning with a wooden cooking spoon -- to cook the chicken pieces evenly. For stir-fries, you can cook the chicken along with sliced vegetables at the same time in the pan.
Pan-roasting lets you sear and brown larger pieces of chicken without overcooking the edges of the meat -- especially important for larger pieces of chicken -- as the chicken finishes cooking in the oven. To cook chicken this way, you need an oven-proof pan, such as a stainless steel skillet. Marinate the chicken beforehand to improve its flavor -- the classic mix of garlic, rosemary and lemon juice works well for pan-roasted chicken -- but pat the chicken dry before searing to ensure even browning and crisping.
Preheat the oven to 375 F and heat a pan on high heat on the stove, covering the bottom with a thin coat of oil. When a drop of water vaporizes as it hits the pan, place the chicken, skin- or presentation-side down, into the pan, letting it rest for 2 to 3 minutes without moving. Once browned, flip the chicken over and transfer it, pan and all, to a center rack in the oven. Roast the chicken until cooked through -- when the meat reaches 165 F at the thickest part. You can also cook the chicken in the oven with other ingredients after searing for a complete dish.
Unless it's deep fried, breaded chicken is best cooked in a nonstick skillet to minimize the amount of oil absorbed by the breading. As it can take large, bone-in pieces of chicken a long time to cook in dry heat on a pan, it is easiest to bread strips of boneless, skinless chicken. Season chicken for breading with dried spices -- don't use liquids or fresh spices, as the moisture makes it harder for the breading to crisp -- before coating the chicken with seasoned breadcrumbs. To help the crumbs stick, dip the chicken in an egg wash beforehand, but this is not necessary.
Heat a nonstick skillet on medium heat, and place the chicken strips in the pan. Don't overcrowd, as the chicken naturally releases some juices as it cooks. Flip the chicken pieces after 5 minutes to ensure even cooking. Breaded chicken, even when marinated, can be dry, so serve the chicken with a dipping sauce, such as a blend of Dijon mustard and honey.
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