Cooking foods quickly in a small amount of fat until nicely browned on the outside and tender and juicy within is the method known as sautéing. Most bone-in cuts of chicken are sautéed only as a first step in braising (see our technique for braising chicken), but boneless chicken breasts or thighs are superb when cooked in this fashion and served with an easy-to-make pan sauce.
When a recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken, see our technique for skinning and boning chicken to do your own boning and skinning, or buy the pieces already prepared. If desired, flatten each piece of chicken with a mallet as shown in our technique for baking boneless chicken breasts to maximize the surface area and ensure even cooking. For a crisp crust that locks in moisture, dredge the chicken in seasoned flour before cooking (this step is not always necessary when sautéing). To finish, deglaze the pan with juice, broth, or wine, then stir in seasonings.
Once you are comfortable with sautéing, you can prepare an elegant company meal in short order. It is ideal for impromptu dinners because it requires very little preparation, especially if your pantry is stocked with flour, seasonings, and deglazing liquids and your freezer has a supply of chicken breasts or thighs.
Coating Chicken with Flour
Place flour on a plate. Hold the chicken (in this case, a boneless, skinless breast half) at one end and lay across the flour to coat. Lift the meat, turn, and place in the flour again to coat the other side.
Sautéing Chicken Pieces
Heat oil or butter in the pan. When the bubbles subside, add the chicken and cook until golden brown; turn and cook on the other side until it is evenly browned on the surface and opaque within. Transfer to a warm serving platter.
Slowly pour the cold liquid into the hot pan to dislodge the browned bits left on the bottom when the chicken was browned. Stir and boil to concentrate the flavors of the sauce.
Let the sauce cook until some of the liquid is evaporated and the volume is reduced to about half the original amount. Taste before serving and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.