Casey left her corporate career to pursue the art of cooking full time
Casey left her corporate career to pursue the art of cooking full time

Kitchen Essentials: How to turn a pan-fried chicken into a masterpiece

In our new weekly Kitchen Essentials column Laoise Casey guides you through the basic cooking techniques that form the building blocks to creating kitchen magic, including step-by-step videos filmed by the YouTube channel, Wild Dish

Laoise Casey
Friday 28 October 2016 14:37

Propelled by my culinary obsession, I threw caution, stability and a good salary to the wind and left my corporate career for one behind the stove. As part of becoming a better chef, I have worked in some excellent restaurants but ultimately I am a home cook, and that is where I am happiest – developing recipes that will work for people with just a hob, oven and the basic cooking utensils.

My Kitchen Essentials column brings together the new skills and techniques I have learned in the professional kitchen and adapts them for the home. With so many new cookbooks and recipes available online, it’s important to know the key techniques to help you master each dish.

Each week I will talk you through one of my favourite methods. For instance: how to pan-fry chicken, sweat onions, or make a tomato sauce. I will explain how to do it, why it is important and what you can then cook with it. These are all straightforward skills – which for me illustrate the beauty of cooking.

We start this week with pan-frying chicken. Properly cooked, a chicken fillet can form the base layer for a meal. There are many alternative ways to cook a piece of chicken and I do not claim to cover every single approach – if there are others that you want to know about, please tell us in the comments section below.

Pan-frying chicken may not seem like an art, but there are a few ways to perfect the process

There are few things to remember from the outset. Begin with a hot pan, then heat your oil until it is also hot. If you start with a cold pan you will not be able to brown the meat on the outside before over-cooking it on the inside. When you put the chicken in the pan you want to hear that sizzle. Listen for it.

Seasoning is vital. I like to use sea salt flakes and cracked black pepper. Go softly with the seasoning and add it in while cooking, not after – and always taste test. I’m also a fan of using a little butter, which will enhance the colour while adding a nutty flavour.

After browning the chicken, pop a lid on top and it will finish cooking in the steaming process. Remove it from the pan and leave to rest for a few minutes before slicing. Try a slice – the outside should be crispy and the inside tender. So you have your chicken – what next? Here is where you start to layer – add different spices and herbs – paprika for a spicy kick, garlic, picked thyme, chopped parsley to lift the flavour after cooking, a fresh bay leaf in the pan for a deeper flavour, perhaps some harissa, or a squeeze of lemon for an acidic kick just before taking the pan off the heat.

You can then make

Add some red peppers, feta, green leaves and bread on the side for a quick dinner. Stir into cooked pasta, extra virgin olive oil, rocket and parmesan, then bake in the oven until the cheese is crispy. Bulk up a frittata with chicken slices, aubergine, goat’s cheese and tomato toasts on the side. Or serve with roasted baby potatoes, leeks and butternut squash for a mini roast. A little pie with mushrooms to bring out the flavour of the chicken. Stuck for work lunch ideas? Try it with quinoa or couscous, a lemon vinaigrette, fresh mozzarella, and toasted almonds. Make a sandwich with chicken, basil pesto, grated cheddar and thinly sliced red onions. The possibilities are indeed endless. My favourite is with crispy jersey royals and a lemon aioli, eaten hungrily at the kitchen table.

How to pan-fry a chicken breast


1 free-range chicken breast (150g – 200g)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Knob of butter
​Sea salt, cracked black pepper, to season


Rolling pin
Greaseproof paper
Frying pan and lid (or tinfoil)
Spatula/fish slice

How to

Using a rolling pin, lightly roll out the chicken breast to even thickness between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. I am using vegetable as it has a neutral flavour, you may prefer to use olive oil. When hot, add the chicken. Press down on the flesh with the spatula to increase contact with the pan and cook it evenly. Fry on one side for 3 minutes then turn over and cook on the other side for 3 minutes. As the chicken starts to brown add the butter and when it foams use it to baste the chicken. Apart from turning it over do not move the chicken while in the pan to increase browning. Cover the pan with a lid to allow the chicken to cook in its own steam. Reduce the heat to low and cook for a further 5 minutes. Check that it is cooked through. Remove from the pan and allow to rest for a few minutes before slicing.

What to do if

If the chicken breast does not colour on the outside – the pan may not be hot enough when you added the chicken so it will just steam in its juices, or you may have moved the chicken around while cooking. If this happens, remove the chicken and reheat the pan. If you are using more than one chicken breast at a time don’t overcrowd the pan or the chicken will steam in its own juices and will not brown. If the chicken is dry – cooking times vary depending on the weight and thickness of the chicken – try reducing the time you cook the chicken when it is covered.

Recipe: pan-fried chicken with glazed shallots and crispy potatoes

Add a squeeze of lemon for a zesty kick

Chicken and shallots are two staple ingredients which together form the basis of a wonderful simple meal. We are glazing the shallots using a little butter, demerara sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cooked this way they take on a deep flavour which compliments the chicken. To get a beautiful colour on the shallots start with a very hot pan then finish cooking in the oven. On the side I’m suggesting some crispy potatoes, but the great thing about this is that you can use whatever you have at home – rice, couscous or sweet potatoes would also work well. The shallots can also be served alone as a side dish, with a Sunday roast or with steak.

Serves 2

3 medium potatoes, Maris Piper or similar, washed, unpeeled and sliced into 1cm horizontal slices 
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled and smashed with the back of a knife 
2 tbsp olive oil 
2 pan-fried chicken breasts, please see technique above 
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 large banana shallots, unpeeled and sliced in half lengthways 
Knob of butter
2 tsp demerara sugar
Balsamic vinegar
Small handful chopped herbs (try parsley, chervil, chives) 
Sea salt, cracked black pepper 

Preheat oven to 180C. Put the sliced potatoes in a baking tray with the garlic and drizzle with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or until golden and crispy. Meanwhile, cook the chicken according to the technique outlined above.

For the shallots use the same pan that you cooked the chicken in, along with the cooking juices. Heat the vegetable oil in this pan over a high heat. When the pan is very hot add the shallots, cut side down and season. Cook for 3 minutes until starting to get a colour on the cut side. Then turn the heat down to medium or the oil may start to get smoky.

These glazed shallots are perfect as a side dish for any Sunday roast or steak, as well as chicken

Add the butter and sugar to the pan. When the butter starts to foam use a spoon to baste the shallots with it. Leave them to cook over a medium heat for 4 minutes. Then pour in a splash of balsamic vinegar to the pan. The vinegar should bubble up straight away and start to reduce, this is forming the glaze. If you think it needs it, add a splash of water to the pan. Finish cooking the shallots in the oven, in the pan, with the potatoes for 5 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the shallots and potatoes from the oven. Spoon the juices from the shallot pan over the chicken and shallots. Sprinkle the chopped herbs over the potatoes.

Next week’s kitchen essentials Saturday 5 November: How to make a vinaigrette

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