Seared Chicken Breasts with Perfect Pan Sauce

Phot credit - Food Lab, a great recipe source!
Phot credit – Food Lab, a great recipe source!

I’ve known how to make great seared chicken breasts for many years, but always found the sauce too thin and runny, even when I allowed extra time for reduction or finished with an extra dollop butter.  But when I ordered the same dish at a decent restaurant, the sauce was always beautifully thick and satisfying.  So I asked if the chef would share his/her secret.  Here’s what came back – add gelatin!

I tested it, and then googled it and found the Food Lab’s recipe (click image above to open in new window), and compared both versions.  I share the highly satisfying result with you here.


  • One boneless chicken breast per person (this assures leftovers) – I prefer skin on – allowed to dry in refrigerator for at least four hours, or overnight.
  • ½ cup dry white wine, unoaked or lightly oaked
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1½ tsp powdered gelatin (tapioca powder also works)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (about one clove)
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • Fresh herbs, minced (any or all of chives, parsley, tarragon and chervil)

With oven rack placed at center height, pre-heat oven to 450.  Liberally season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. 

Combine wine and chicken stock and sprinkle gelatin on top.  Set aside.

Heat a wide, flat, oven-proof skillet (stainless steel, if you have it) over medium high for 3-4 minutes; add the oil and then the chicken breasts, skin-side down.  RESIST touching the chicken for about five minutes, then check on progress – flip the breasts when the skin is deep golden brown, usually about six minutes if your heat is right.  After flipping, transfer your skillet to the oven.

When a thermometer (inserted into the thickest part of the chicken breast) registers an internal temperature of 150 degrees (6-10 minutes, depending on the size of the poultry), place the skillet on a burner and transfer chicken to a cutting board to rest before carving.

Pour off all but ~1 Tbsp of chicken fat from the skillet, then set your fire to high heat.  Add the shallots and garlic and stir until fragrant – just 30 seconds or so.  Add the stock/wine/gelatin mixture and deglaze the pan, stirring up any of the fond – the brown bits from the chicken.  Reduce by 2/3 (4-6 minutes, depending on your heat) then finish your sauce by whisking in the butter and soy, cooking for several seconds at a high boil until emulsified.  Remove from heat, stir in the minced herbs, and add any salt/pepper to taste.

Slice the chicken breasts into ¾ inch slices and transfer the whole breast to individual plates, overlapping the slices before spooning on the sauce.  Serve with choice of potatoes and green vegetable. 

Difficulty: Easy-Medium.  Time required: 45-60 minutes, depending on wine consumption.

Wine Pairing: This dish is rich enough to compliment medim-full bodied white wines, most Rosés, and even light reds such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or lighter Zins.

Variations: this basic recipe can be taken in a million different directions.  Think about adding sautéed mushrooms to pull it in an earthy direction, or dried cherries/cranberries for a sweet/savory direction.  Pound out the breasts and add lemon and capers and you’ve got Piccata.  Or add a bit of cumin, raisins and pine nuts and head towards Morocco!

Iron Chef? Rusty Chef??

Iron Chef

This is a busy week.  I have my usual monthly tasks PLUS income taxes and a wine club shipment to get ready.  A wise and disciplined person would be concentrating on this task list.

But I can’t keep from thinking about Thursday afternoon, when our friends Kendy and David are helping Leslie and me stage our own Iron Chef cooking challenge.

Kendy and I are the chefs.  We have accepted the challenge of preparing dinner using the ingredients presented to us by the other two participants.  Oh, and we have to plan and execute the entire meal in 90 minutes, using every ingredient they provide.  While we cook, they drink wine, watch, kibitz and snicker.

David and Leslie are the shoppers.  They will gather all the ingredients for use in preparing the meal.  I know these two.  They are smart.  They are creative.  They are evil.  They will find the most obscure, bizarre ingredients available at the Farmer’s Market or Chinatown, or Fisherman’s Wharf or…

I an a decent chef.  Though I have not spent as many hours in cooking schools as in wine schools, neither am I a stranger to their rosters.  And Kendy’s cooking chops?  Well, Kendy’s Italian, and that pretty much says it all.  But this is a TIMED event, and we need to be able to quickly come up with a great recipe for whatever they provide – Opah, or Ugli fruit, or oxtails, or head cheese, or…

So instead of working on taxes, I’m boning up on obscure vegetables.  While I should be writing up wines, I’m researching the art of smoking meats over tea on an indoor stovetop.  While I should be replying to suppliers, I’m thinking about ways to use Lemon Grass.  And every few minutes I’m bugging every chef friend who will answer the phone.  At the moment, I’m looking for a good source on bizarre sea animals – anyone know how to prepare Sea Cucumber?

As for the wines – I’m prepared for whatever they throw at us!  In the cooler I have several bottles of sparkling and still whites and roses, from light to heavy.  And in the cellar I have set aside a plethora of reds representing a similar spectrum of weight and alcohol.  This is the part I’m least concerned with – if the food is edible, we’ll have a wine that compliments it.  And if the food is not edible, we’ll have a wine that masks it!

I’ll let you know how it all turns out on Thursday.  I can’t wait…

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant