Meat sheet No. 10 – Chicken Breast Fillet

Meat cut of the week – chicken breast fillet

Chicken breast fillet might be the nation’s favourite cut of meat but, unfortunately, that doesn’t make it the best. Beyond going retro chicken Kiev and Cordon Bleu and quick stir fries I’ve always struggled to find a place for them. They’ve come to symbolise intensive factory farming, production line and uniform, to the gram, portion control. Every chicken has them (two in fact) and a producer knows that if he buys a certain genetic strain, keeps them in specific conditions, feeds them an exact amount of food he will get an exact sized breast. They’re the perfectly shaped cut for packing in trays for the supermarket shelves and, like all mass produced chicken, they’re cheap. Chickens are cheap to breed (up to 290 eggs per bird per year) and they grow extremely fast.

But free range and organic chickens have breasts too and I’m pleased to say that through the year in the shops, unlike in supermarkets, demand for leg and breast is fairly even (nationwide it’s about 3:1 with, in a lot of cases I suspect, the 1 going to the cat). From the bird, yield of white and brown (as the Americans call it) is approximately equal.  However, in the summer, with the smell of barbecues wafting over every garden fence, everyone wants thighs and drumsticks. Chicken breast are quite hard to cook and virtually impossible to barbecue without ending up disappointingly dry. There simply isn’t enough collagen and fat to keep it moist and once it reaches 70°C, what remains will dissipate quickly.

I sense that I’m not doing a good selling job here which is a shame because our free range chicken breast does tick a lot of boxes and, for a cut of lean meat suitable for fast cooking, it isn’t even that expensive. It just has to be treated with care. Poaching meat has fallen out of favour but it works a treat with chicken breast and the choice of flavourings is endless. Because, starting from cold, it will be virtually cooked by the time the liquid heats up, you need to make your aromatic stock first and cool it down. See Once poached, Caesar salad is your oyster.

One of my most rewarding celebratory, family meals was Ottolenghi’s Hainanese Chicken and Penang Acar ( for an abridged version). The ingredients list is, to say the least, intimidating but with chicken breast and a few obvious cheats you could have the basics on the table in an hour.

But, without question, the best thing to do with chicken breast is to smoke it. The brief brining will help seal in the succulence and, it’s a doddle in any kettle type of barbecue – as long as you have a meat thermometer because, as with all chicken breast recipes, you simply can’t overcook it. The internet is awash with recipes and marinades but they’re all completely unnecessary. Dissolve 100g of salt in a litre of warm water, cool and brine your chicken breasts for a couple of hours. Drain. Light your kettle or lidded barbecue with the minimum amount of charcoal. Leave to burn for fifteen minutes and add couple of handfuls of oak, or other hardwood, chips or damp shavings, place the chicken on the rack and put the lid down. If the shavings look as though they’re going to burn too fast, wrap them in foil and perforate it to let the smoke out. Smoke for an hour or so, checking the temperature occasionally. Once the chicken reaches 70°C, it’s done. If it doesn’t come up to temp, finish in a 160°C oven. I know I over simplify but it really is as easy as that!

Chicken Kiev

As a retro throwback, they’ve been given a hard time but the garlic butter keeps the meat moist and, for me, there’s enough going on to give them some ‘timeless classic’ credibility.

2 chicken breasts
for the herb butter:
60g butter (room temperature)
2 cloves garlic
½ lemon – grated zest and juice
1 tbsp chopped parsley
¼ tsp Dijon mustard
Sprinkling of chopped chives
for the crumb:
Plain flour
1 egg
100g breadcrumbs

Peel off the skin and remove the loose piece of under fillet. Put the two breasts in the freezer for ten minutes to firm up.
Meanwhile, make the herb butter: Combine the butter with all the other ingredients, season well and then roll up in cling film into a chipolata shaped sausage, freeze to firm up (this can be done well in advance).
Using a thin knife, make a hole at the thin end of the breasts and push until you almost reach the other end to create a long pocket. Push in a finger of your hard butter.
Crumb each breast by coating first in flour, dipping in egg and finally dipping in breadcrumbs. Repeat to ensure a good coating of breadcrumbs, particularly around the herb butter pocket, to keep your butter from oozing out when hot. Refrigerate crumbed breasts for an hour. Although normally cooking chicken straight from the fridge is frowned upon, in this case it is necessary to stop your butter from getting too runny. You’re bound to get a bit of leakage but the longer it stays in, the less chance of the butter burning.
Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Gently brush each breast with sunflower oil and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to rest. Slice diagonally into 1-2cm slices.

Chicken and ciabatta brochettes with mojo verde
It might sound strange, but bread works well on a kebab stick and by the time it begins to crisp, the chicken will be done.
Mojos are sauces, of various colours and spiciness, from the Canary Islands – good with everything from potatoes to fish to burgers.  Normally they have a little added vinegar which helps keep them for a couple of weeks in the fridge so they’re worth making in reasonable quantities. Unlike most mojos, our Mojo Verde has no bread so it’s more like a thick dressing or spicy Italian salsa verde.

First the mojo (my version of the recipe in the Brindisa Cookbook)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1  tsp salt                                                                                                                                                                                                180 ml  olive oil
A generous bunch of coriander – stalks and leaves separated
1 green chili – deseeded
1 green large pepper – deseeded and roughly chopped                                                                                                                    1/2 tsp ground cumin                                                                                                                                                                            2 tbs muscatel vinegar (my staff pick)


Blitz the coriander stalks, garlic, cumin, chili, salt and half the olive oil in a small food processor.  Add the grteen pepper and pulse again. Add the coriander leaf and vinegar and pulse again. Check the seasoning, texture and acidity and adjust accordingly.
For the brochettes
400g chicken breast fillets
A clove of garlic – finely chopped
A generous pinch each of sweet smoked paprika, cumin, fresh thyme, oregano and salt.
Drizzle of olive oil for the marinade + more for the  ciabatta
150g stale ciabatta bread, crusts trimmed & cut into 2cm cubes

Prepare the chicken; skin the breast fillet (unlike cats, there’s really only one way) and cut into 2cm cubes.
Place in a large mixing bowl and add the paprika, cumin, some black pepper, oregano, thyme and garlic. Mix well, drizzle over the olive oil and marinate for an hour.
When you are ready to cook the brochettes, thread the bread and meat on to skewers (if you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes to stop them burning).
Mix a little more olive oil with the remaining marinade and brush onto the skewers, paying particular attention to the bread – you want the bread to soak up as much liquid as possible, so it doesn’t cook too fast.
Cook under a hot grill for about 3 minutes on each side – so the chicken is cooked through but still juicy on the inside with the bread crisp and crunchy.
Season and serve with the mojo.

Chilli chicken noodle soup

The list of ingredients looks lengthy, but plenty are likely to be in the cupboard. The key is getting the broth nicely balanced, which is fairly subjective, so don’t chuck everything in at once. A kitchen cheat’s compromise is ditch all the other ingredients and just use stock, little sweet chilli sauce and balance with miso and soya. Either way, the end result is a near perfect, soothing, summer soup.
for the broth:
1.25 litres chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp miso
1 large knob of fresh ginger, chopped or grated into matchsticks
2 dried chillies
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp soy sauc
2 tbsp rice vinegar
½ tbsp cooking sake (optional)
for the marinated chicken:
200g chicken breast – cut into ribbons
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp sweet chilli dipping sauce
for the soup:
150g packet medium noodles
300g selection of crisp primavera (spring) veg & herbs (sugar snaps, French beans, spring onions, spinach, coriander, flat leaf parsley, etc.)

Gently simmer all the broth ingredients on a low heat for about an hour. Sieve and discard the solids. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If you have any cooking sake, a couple of tablespoons might help but what you want is a balanced background flavour – there are plenty of additions to come.
Mix the chicken with soy and sweet chilli dipping sauces and marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
To make the soup, break noodles into manageable lengths and tear or chop the veg into bite-sized chunks. Bring the broth to the simmer, add the noodles and veg, turn up the heat to bring back to the simmer.
After a couple of minutes, add the chicken (without most of the marinade), finally sprinkle over the chopped spring onions, herbs and leaves.
Eat immediately before the noodles go soggy.