4 Steps to Perfect Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts
1. Salt the meat.
First, salt the meat and allow it to rest; this will help to keep the chicken juicy. Under a microscope, chicken muscles resemble skinny tubes with juices trapped in them. Cooking tightens those tubes and squeezes out liquid. Salting (also called dry brining) breaks down muscle fibers so they shrink less and retain more juices as they cook. Letting the salted chicken rest for 30 minutes is great—overnight, even better.
2. Pat chicken dry.
Next, ensure that the chicken exterior is dry. It may seem counterintuitive, but starting with drier chicken actually leads to a moister end result. Here's why: We want our chicken to brown for flavor. This browning can't take place until surface moisture evaporates, so the less water there is on the surface to start, the more quickly and efficiently the chicken will brown (and the less likely it is to overcook).
3. Use relatively low heat.
The final secret? Use relatively low heat. Searing at high temperatures is idea for, say, a steak, where you desire a deeply browned exterior and a nice, pink, 125°F center. Chicken, on the other hand, must be cooked to 155° to 165°F. Medium-low heat allows the center to cook to a safe temperature just as the exterior finishes developing a perfectly brown color. (Adding just a tiny bit of butter to the pan helps that browning along.)
4. Enjoy Perfect Pan-Seared Chicken
The great thing is that with dry chicken and low heat, there's barely any oil spatter as this chicken cooks, making cleanup effortless. So as soon as those supremely juicy, tender, golden-crusted chicken breasts are ready, it's time to eat.