Chicken breasts and cast iron skillet methods?
January 7, 2007 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Best way to grill/roast chicken in a healthy way on a cast iron skillet?

I used to throw a chicken breast on a Foreman grill for a quick meal, but I've since got rid of the Foreman grill. What's the best way to prepare a chicken breast in a cast iron skillet (with as little (or no) oil as possible), preferably solely on the oventop?
posted by keswick to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I use one of those Misto oil sprayers, and it works great. I use olive oil, but I don't see why you wouldn't be able to use other oils in it.
posted by amarynth at 11:50 AM on January 7, 2007

here's my favorite: little olive oil, half an onion, sauteed until brown... brown the chicken breast on both sides. Add a can of chopped or crushed tomatoes and here's the clincher: add some cinnamon (trust me), oregano, crushed fennel seeds and lemon juice. Let the chicken breast poach in this until it's done. Very moist and the cinnamon/lemon/oregano combo make it perfect. (I just like fennel but it's not imperative.)
posted by lois1950 at 12:01 PM on January 7, 2007

The cast iron will stick much more than the teflon you had in the Foreman grill. Why not pick up a teflon pan? Otherwise, I'd use Pam and plenty of good seasoning. Pepper can really act as a non-stick layer beween meat and heat if you use enough!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:01 PM on January 7, 2007

Brown the chicken breasts in a little olive or canola oil, turn the heat down and let them cook through. The cooking time depends on the thickness of the chicken. You can also pound them a bit to flatten to speed up cooking time.

You didn't ask for this, but poaching may be an idea. You can poach in plain water, or whatever liquid you prefer. Wine, chicken stock, or a combination of the two. Poaching is a way to avoid oil altogether.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:02 PM on January 7, 2007

Seconding just poaching. You can make way more healthy interesting options if you just look at all the food you have and ask yourself "can it be a sauce on chicken?"

Or to make a very simple tasty poached chicken, just slosh chicken stock (and PEPPER!!) into your cast iron.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:03 PM on January 7, 2007

Is your skillet new? You're going to have to season it a few times to build up something of a nonstick layer. Christopher Kimball from Cook's Illustrated recommends a different seasoning process that I actually like better--it's faster and less messy, for one thing.

On the subject of cooking with less oil: my Misto oil sprayer was a cloggy mess that eventually broke. I bought a can of this Ever Bake stuff and it totally kicks butt--the spray is WAY finer and much more even than Pam. It's definitely the best way I've found to use the least amount of oil and still keep things from sticking. Don't let the price scare you, the can is enormous.

And regarding lois1950's suggestion--don't use tomatoes in your cast iron pan if it's brand new and you haven't built up a quality coating on it. The acid in the tomatoes will react with the iron and create an off taste. It's more noticeable in something that simmers for a long time. If you do try her recipe, though, a sliced fresh fennel bulb would be great tossed in there, too!
posted by bcwinters at 12:28 PM on January 7, 2007

There are several varieties of grilling spices available. Liberally douse a boneless chicken breast or 2, and saute with a little bit of oil on med. high, turning several times.
posted by theora55 at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cast-Iron Grill Pan.

Now, a word of caution: Don't buy pre-seasoned cast-iron. You should cure it yourself. The "pre-seasoning" is actually paint, and it can and will come off if you, you know, actually use the damn thing. First time I made fried potatoes in mine, they came out grey. So buy plain, untreated iron and cure it yourself in the oven.

Need help learning how to select, season and use your pan? Get this book.

Yeah, the food likely will stick some, but not badly, and it'll brown more nicely and heat more evenly than some fancy-ass teflon pan. Not to mention that eating food cooked in iron will increase the iron levels in your body (so I've heard but IANAD), which is good.

Just use a little non-hydrogenated olive oil (not extra virgin, it burns too easily) and you'll be fine.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2007

Use grapeseed or somesuch other high-smoke oil, put a thin coat on the chicken (along with lots of salt), let the salted oiled chicken come to room temperature, bring your well-seasoned iron pan to a very high temperature, drop in the chicken. Flip when it's cooked 2/3 of the way through. Pull it out when it's still a little pink in the middle, remove to a plate, let rest 3 minutes.
posted by rxrfrx at 12:36 PM on January 7, 2007

Better by far than plain cast iron: the nickel-plated cast-iron grill pan. No seasoning needed, doesn't rust, spreads and holds heat like normal cast iron. One of the best kitchen things I ever bought.
posted by nicwolff at 12:43 PM on January 7, 2007

Try pan roasting.
posted by The Straightener at 12:44 PM on January 7, 2007

So I should be searing at a high heat and then back it down to a medium heat to cook it through? I'm worried about over/undercooking. (I have an instant read digital thermometer, so I'm not that worried, but I would like to know the best theoretical technique.
posted by keswick at 12:47 PM on January 7, 2007

I would just throw it in the oven and broil it 5 minutes a side. Delicious with some small amount of olive oil, salt, garlic. To make it special cut up garlic chunks and cut holes in the chicken and put them in the chicken - they will permeate and cause very good flavor throughout.

Side note: a properly seasoned cast iron pan will behave like teflon without the cancer causing agents. Season it and never wash it with soap and voila - the original non-stick pan!
posted by zia at 12:52 PM on January 7, 2007

IMHO, don't worry about it too much. With chicken, especially breasts, err on the side of undercooking, then check with a thin, sharp knife to make sure that there is no pink on the inside. If there is, throw it back on the pan or in the microwave or whatever. The point is, don't overcook the damn thing, because it will turn out tough and flavorless.
posted by rossination at 12:53 PM on January 7, 2007

My trick in the grill pan is to get the pan real hot, spray it with olive-oil Pam, sear the chicken for 2 minutes on each side, then throw a steel mixing bowl over it to make a little oven right on the grill, bring the heat down, and cook it till it's done.
posted by nicwolff at 12:55 PM on January 7, 2007

I also use a lid of some sort to speed up cooking and I also cut into the breasts if I am not sure. I usually brown for 2 or 3 minutes each side, turn down the heat, and cook for an additional 4 or 5 minutes per side. Sometimes longer for the gargantuan ones.

This is pretty neat
posted by LoriFLA at 1:17 PM on January 7, 2007

I'm not sure how much prep work you are willing or interested in doing, but if you pound your chicken breasts flat, you can cook them in a cast iron pan really pretty darned quick. I usualy put a chicken breast in a plastic bag, pound the hell out of it with either a special chicken pounder or the side of a meat tenderizer, salt, pepper and paprika it and then toss it into a preheated skillet (medium high, though you this depends on your stove, you DON'T need to make your skillet as hot as you would a normal pan) sprayed with some budget oil spray (though I recommend olive generally, it's slightly better for you, smells better, etc). Toss it in the pan and sear both sides, then you can toss in a bit of liquid (broth, water, soup) lower the heat and cover, cook for another few minutes. This usually avoids the too tough problem.

My favorite thing about the flatter chicken breasts is that you can eat one as some sort of main course but you can cook a bunch of them at once and use the rest for sandwiches or lunches. It's just as easy to cook five as it is to cook one.
posted by jessamyn at 1:39 PM on January 7, 2007

So I should be searing at a high heat and then back it down to a medium heat to cook it through?
That's exactly what I'd do. I've found that a very, very high initial temperature will prevent meat from sticking to cast iron. After that (as you say) back it down to cook the meat through.
posted by bunglin jones at 4:47 PM on January 7, 2007

My method involves heating the pan with a thin coat of butter, placing the lightly salted and peppered breasts in the pan, brown both sides, reduce heat and add your favorite wine (I've used zinfindel or a merlot, ymmv), add sliced mushrooms. After removing the cooked chicken, you can de-glaze the pan and have a wonderful gravy as well.

PS: follow this link to read about seasoning, problems and correct ways to clean cast iron.
posted by bach at 10:57 PM on January 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lemon, oregano, fresh ground rosemary, and pepper. Lots of all of them.

I also like to slice breasts into strips, instead of cooking them as a whole, because it is much easier to control cooking time, and the seasoning reaches a lot more of the meat.

Why be so paranoid about a tablespoon full of canola/olive/grape oil? And finally.. Yes, very hot to begin with! You don't want to miss that tasty/crispy and carcinogenic (I guess) browning :)
posted by Chuckles at 11:10 PM on January 7, 2007

On the subject of oils, be careful what you choose, particularly if you're going to be using high heat and if you are trying to use just a little. I've been trying to cut down on oil in my pan-frying, and it took a bit of experimentation to not burn/smoke the oil and create nasty flavors in the food. With less oil it will start smoking faster, and taste burned more easily if you overheat it.

I found that Bertolli Extra Light Olive Oil has the highest smoke point of any olive oil I've used (somewhere around 400F), and I've read that it's very consistent.

This winter I bought myself a non-contact IR thermometer, and that's been a great help. It's a lot better than spattering water or holding your hand over the pan to see when it's up to temperature. If you can afford one, it's worthwhile.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:11 PM on January 7, 2007

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