Simple seared chicken breast topped with Puttanensca-style sauce of tomato,...

Simple seared chicken breast topped with Puttanensca-style sauce of tomato, anchovy, garlic, onion, olives, and capers. (June 2020) Credit: Marge Perry

I have never heard any one actually crave a boneless skinless chicken breast. They may crave a dish made with a chicken breast, but it isn’t about the chicken — it’s about what goes on, in, or under it.

That’s because a boneless skinless chicken breast doesn’t have a lot of oomph. When cooked right, it is tender and juicy, with just enough chewiness to let you know you are eating a nice piece of protein. But it doesn’t have a lot of flavor.

And that is actually what I love about it. It’s a canvas; a simple, pleasant background for all kinds of artistry. The key is getting that canvas just right, so that however you serve it, the chicken enhances and is enhanced by the other flavors and textures.

To cook a perfect skinless, boneless chicken breast to perfection use an instant read meat thermometer. It makes all the difference. (You can buy one for about $15.) You can’t tell if chicken is cooked to a safe internal temperature by color or whether it has clear juices — it can be nearly white and still be undercooked, or have a spot of red and be terribly overdone.

Insert your instant read thermometer horizontally so the wand is one inch in, and the tip right in the center of the thickest part. The chicken is safe at 160 degrees. The USDA changed its recommendation to 165 degrees for all chicken, because they didn’t think consumers could remember two numbers: 160 for breasts and 170 for dark meat. I, however, believe in you, and trust that you will remember two numbers for the sake of better tasting meals.


2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 anchovy, minced

1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, drained

1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon (drained) capers

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 6-ounce boneless skinless chicken breast pieces, pounded to an even thickness

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high. Add the onion, garlic and anchovy and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato, olives, capers and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, another 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, taste and add salt if needed; cover and set aside.

2. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper on a plate and dredge the chicken until it is lightly coated.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a clean large nonstick skillet over medium high. When the oil is hot enough that the chicken sizzles when you touch the edge of one piece to the pan, place all four pieces in the skillet with the smooth side facing down. Let it cook without moving until it is beautifully golden on the underside, about 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook until the center of the largest piece reaches 160 degrees, about another 3-4 minutes.

4. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce, and pass any extra. Makes 4 servings


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