How To Make Kid-Friendly Chicken Breasts

A quick and easy pan sauce will transform that package of chicken into a dinner the whole family will crave

If you do any amount of regular home cooking, you've probably found yourself gazing at a package of chicken breasts with a heady mix of boredom and despair. You stand in stillness, hoping for inspiration to strike.

Enter the pan sauce: one of most useful and flexible kitchen techniques out there. It seems simple, but it'll change your life—especially when you're cooking for kids. With these tips and tricks, you'll never look at chicken breasts quite the same way again.

If you're looking for a more elegant presentation or if your boneless, skinless chicken breasts are thicker than three-quarters of an inch, place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound them with a rolling pin or a wine bottle until they're uniformly flattened. (They'll cook faster, too.) You can also try this technique with chicken cutlets—it's a little more expensive, but less work.

Toss a bit of oil or butter in a large skillet and sear the chicken breasts until browned on the outside and just barely cooked through, about five minutes per side. If you plan to finish cooking the chicken in the sauce itself, take the chicken out of the pan while it's still a bit pink inside.

Put the chicken on a plate but—and here's the important part—do not wash out the pan. The browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan will merge into your sauce, giving it amazing flavor and richness.

Sauté some onions, garlic, shallots or other aromatics (usually some member of the onion family) until tender. Add your favorite herbs and seasonings—and don't be afraid to experiment.

Next, the fun part: deglazing the pan, or adding liquid and scraping up the flavorful, caramelized brown bits, which lend flavor to the sauce. Use wine or broth, rustling up debris as you swish. Season with salt and pepper.

Let simmer so all the flavors come together to concentrate the sauce. Add other seasonings—try fresh or dried hot peppers, citrus juice and zest, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, vinegars, capers, Dijon or other mustards, chopped tomatoes, roast peppers, soy sauce, fresh or dried herbs, spices, minced anchovies, olives, or hoisin or other Asian sauces. Then add a little fat or dairy—butter, cream, olive oil or sour cream will all make your sauce richer.

Pour the sauce over the chicken or return the chicken to the sauce to finish cooking through. 

Pro tip: Involve your kids. Have them measure the chicken broth, count garlic cloves, and help choose and prepare the add-ins; for instance, they could pull herb leaves off the stem, juice a lemon and carefully measure out a tablespoon of soy sauce. And it goes without saying: If you start the process by pounding out the chicken breasts, let them go to town.