This is a quick tutorial on how to cook chicken breasts when you get a recipe that calls for “cooked chicken.” It’s simple, easy, and mostly hands-off, so you can do the rest of your recipe prep while the chicken cooks. You end up with juicy, tender chicken breasts that are perfect to cube and mix into pasta, soups, and other recipes or just enjoy for a light, healthy lunch.
Question! What do you do when you make a recipe and the ingredient list calls for “cooked chicken?” Do you throw a chicken breast in the oven for half an hour and hope for the best? Run out and buy a rotisserie chicken? Pick a different recipe because WTF, why doesn’t it say how to cook the chicken–half the recipe is missing? Yes? Yes? or Yes? Friend, today’s recipe is for you.
This is the BEST way to cook chicken breast when you come across a recipe that calls for “cooked chicken.” It tastes a hundred times better than oven-cooked chicken breast, you don’t need to make a trip to the grocery store, and it’s so easy that after you’ve made it once, you’ll never need a recipe for cooked chicken ever again.
This method, which is a mix of pan frying and poaching, produces chicken that is moist, tender, and super flavorful. But Tracy, you might ask, don’t you already have a life-changing recipe for chicken breast on the site? I do! That recipe, How to Cook Perfect Chicken Breasts for Salads and Sandwiches, is one of the most popular recipes on Baking Mischief, and if you’re making a sandwich or salad, GO MAKE IT NOW! It makes the perfect thin, tender chicken breast, but the trade-off is that you have to pound a chicken breast flat and supervise its cooking.
*This* recipe can go straight from package to stove without any prep and needs no babysitting. Once you get it cooking, you can walk away and do the rest of your recipe prep. It’s the best. Sound good?
This is how to make it.
How to Cook Chicken Breasts for Recipes
You will need a skillet with a lid, an instant-read thermometer, some chicken breasts and salt and pepper.
Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken breasts and heat your skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, lightly grease with cooking spray or a drizzle of oil. Place chicken breasts in the pan and cook until the first side is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
Flip chicken breasts and brown second side, 2 to 3 minutes. Once both sides are browned, add about 1/2-inch of water to the pan. Turn heat down to medium, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes (longer with larger breasts). Walk away and do your prep work for the rest of your recipe, checking every once in a while and adding more water if it all evaporates.
The chicken is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165°F.
Remove breasts from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting as recipe calls for. Enjoy!
Now tell me that wasn’t the easiest thing ever!
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How Many Chicken Breasts Equals a Cup?
Before we go, let’s talk about how much chicken you’re going to need. Recipes usually call for cooked chicken measured by volume, and that can be tricky to estimate when you’re holding a package of raw chicken measured by weight. Chicken breast sizes vary a ton, but a good rule of thumb is that you can expect to get a little over 2 cups of cooked meat from 1 pound of raw chicken. Medium-sized raw chicken breasts usually weigh about 6 to 8 ounces so:
For 1 cup cooked meat, cook 1 medium chicken breast.
Unless you are trying to accurately estimate calories (in which case, you should be using a scale, not volume), being a little over or under on chicken is not going to hurt your recipe, so don’t stress too much about it.
Chicken Breast Recipe Tips
- If you need shredded chicken for a recipe, check out my post How to Cook Shredded Chicken. It uses the same cooking method but has a super quick and easy shredding method.
- The liquid left at the bottom of the pan after your chicken is cooked is full of flavor. If making soup, add it to the broth for a flavor boost. And if making the chicken in advance, you can pour it back over the chopped breasts to help keep them moist.
- If you don’t have a skillet with a lid, a pot with a lid will work just fine.
- Don’t be worried if your chicken breast takes longer than 8 minutes to cook. There are some huge chicken breasts out there these days, and they will take significantly longer to cook than a 6-ounce breast. Just keep adding water if it all simmers away and trust your thermometer!
How to Cook Chicken Breasts for Recipes
- Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken breasts.
- Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, lightly grease with cooking spray or a drizzle of oil. Place chicken breasts in the pan and cook until the first side is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Flip chicken breasts and brown second side, 2 to 3 minutes. Once both sides are browned, add about 1/2-inch of water to the pan. Turn heat down to medium, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes (longer with larger breasts), adding more water if it all evaporates, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165°F.
- Remove breasts from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting as recipe calls for. Enjoy!