Baking falls into two main methods: high heat and low heat. To get the best results, think a little about what you’re cooking to decide which is best. You want the outside of a piece of meat to become perfectly browned or develop the perfect crust just as the center becomes cooked to your liking. With chicken breast, you want to keep the temperature low so that the end product doesn’t dry out. Sear the breast and stick it in an oven set to 250 until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 155 (carryover heat will raise the temperature outside the oven.)
Salt works wonders on lean proteins, rearranging their molecular structure to allow for better water retention and a juicier result. Make a 5% salt solution by combining 5 cups of water with 4 tablespoons of kosher salt and mixing well until it’s all dissolved. Pour into a plastic container small enough that when you add the breast, it is fully submerged. Allow to brine for anywhere from 1 to 6 hours, but no longer, or it may end up tasting too salty.
If chefs were responsible for designing the anatomy of the chicken, the breast would be the first thing they’d change. It’s strangely shaped, with one thin end and one thick end that makes it almost impossible to cook perfectly. One way chefs get around this is by butterflying the breast. Lay the breast down flat on the cutting board, then cut halfway in from the side (your knife will be moving parallel to the cutting board.) Once you hit the halfway point (or just past it), fold back the top flap – it will almost look like you’re opening a book. Now the breast is more evenly shaped and will cook more consistently through.
In our fast-food instant-gratification culture, we sometimes lose sight of the value of patience. When your meat comes off heat, let it rest for at least half the time it was cooking, as a rule of thumb. During cooking, protein fibers squeeze out water, and letting your chicken relax will allow the fibers to relax as well and reabsorb some of that lost water. The result is a much juicier, more delicious product.