Cooking Question: Moist Chicken Breasts
I am discouraged. When I cook chicken breasts they usually turn up dry inside. What am I doing wrong?
You don't mention if you're cooking boneless/skinless breasts or bone-in breasts, Sarah, but I'll lay odds you're cooking the boneless skinless. You are right in thinking that too high a heat will dry them out and cooking them for too long will do the same. I understand the reasoning. No one wants to eat undercooked chicken, but the trouble is, too many of us swing too far in the opposite direction. Boneless/Skinless breasts don't have bone or skin to prevent the drying out. When you have bone and skin you're adding in much needed moisture (from the bone) and fat (from the skin).
Recommendations are to bake at 350F for about 20 minutes and then test it with a thermometer or by the 'finger test'. I suggest, though all recommendations are for well done, that you test the meat by piercing when it feels medium and see if the liquid that flows out is clear. If it's clear and it feels slightly firm, odds are it's going to be done. If you're grilling, it's recommended that you grill no longer than 10 minutes overall, that's just five minutes per side! And I'd recommend the same time for pan-frying, but if poaching you should probably cook for about 15 minutes. I always use the pierce test to determine if it's done. Remember that meat continues to cook even after you remove from the heat so the temperature will continue to rise for about 10 minutes, the recommended resting period for most cuts of meat before you serve.
You might also try changing brands/types. Some are just more tough and dry than others. I like the frozen breasts from Aldi for price (it works out to about $1 each), but I prefer a fresh breast filet that I freeze myself as part of a package rather than flash frozen pieces of chicken overall. I think the flash frozen are not nearly as flavorful nor as moist as the fresh ones.
Last, I can't recommend highly enough the additional flavor/moisture you'll find if you're buying bone in/skin on breasts. You will cook it a bit longer than boneless pieces but there is a world of difference in flavor and you can always bone them yourself if you require a boneless piece for a recipe. I wait until these go on sale for $.99/pound myself and then stock the freezer with them. Note that I haven't found them for $.99 a pound in many months now, so I obviously need to update that price point.