Sautéed Chicken Breasts: The Whiter Shade of Pale

Chicken montage

Chicken thighs are not only delicious but super forgiving due to their high fat content. I use them frequently for braising and baking. Breasts, on the other hand, seem so simple, and yet… Wanting to be healthier, how many ways and how many times have you made chicken breasts that turn to hockey pucks or leather, especially when browning? Here’s a way to get tender, juicy and buttery chicken breasts every time. They won’t win any awards for looks but they’ve got a great personality (and are a perfect base for a wide variety of toppings as shown multiple ways, above)!

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The most important technique here is to use LOW or at the most, MED-LOW heat. You want a slow sauté. Be patient. If you’re tempted to speed up the process, use a lid but don’t turn up the heat.

I find it helpful to place my hand flat on top of the breast to anchor the chicken as well as control the knife as it moves through as it cuts.

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Using both butter and oil gives a nice buttery flavor while the oil keeps the butter from burning. It’s the best of both worlds.

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Go lightly on the flour and shake off the excess. Too much makes them gummy. No one wants gummy breasts!

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Sautéed Chicken Breasts: The Whiter Shade of Pale

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil*
  • 2 tablespoons butter*
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Pat chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Slice breasts in half, through the middle, length way.
  2. Cover breast halves with plastic wrap and using a meat pounder (use the flat side, not the bumpy tenderizer side), flatten the breasts evenly to approximately 1/4 inch each.
  3. On LOW heat, melt butter into olive oil. *If you are making many breasts, you may need to refresh the butter and olive oil in between batches.
  4. Place flour into a flat dish. Place each breast into the flour mixture, lightly coating each side. Vigorously pat or shake off the excess flour. Too much flour will leave the breasts gummy. No one wants gummy breasts!
  5. While still on LOW heat, place as many breast pieces into to sauté pan that will comfortably fit. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. You may need to sauté the breast pieces in two or more batches. If so, repeat the butter olive oil combination.
  6. Keep a close eye on the breasts as they cook. If you’re using a lid, check often. When you see that the pink flesh on the bottom side has turned white up through the middle of the breast, it’s time to turn them over. When both sides are white, the temperature ought to be between 160-165F. This is safe to eat and guarantees moist and juicy chicken. Because I was paranoid about food safety, I used to use a thermometer to test the temperature. After dozens of times making breasts this way, I know that white equals done (160-165F). When you remove the breast to a platter, they will continue to cook for a bit but remain nice and pliable.

Helpful tip if making multiple batches:

If you can, use multiple pans to sauté the breasts simultaneously. Alternatively, if you have more batches to make, warm a plate and cover the cooked breasts with foil while the other breasts are in process. I’ve tried putting the cooked breasts into the oven on the “warm” setting. However, most ovens have a setting of 170F for “warm”. This is a higher temperature than the breasts’ cooking point. Keeping them in a warmer will continue to cook the chicken and start to toughen them. After all your work, it’s not worth ruining them!


Top with any toppings you like. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat in a sauté pan until warmed through. A microwave will toughen them and alter the taste. Food scientists like Alton Brown or Christopher Kimball would have to explain the science behind the reason why – it’s beyond me.

Chicken montage

Shown Above are four sauces for chicken breasts

  • Sautéed mushrooms with Marsala
  • Lemon caper sauce (Piccata)
  • Pantry tomato sauce
  • Simple mustard white wine sauce (recipe, below)

The first three toppings will be featured in future weeks. What? You thought I’d give you four recipes in one week?! 🙂

4-Ingredient Mustard White Wine Sauce

Let’s pretend that you are at the end of a jar of your favorite Dijon mustard (e.g., Grey Poupon) and there’s still some in left in the jar, but not quite enough to save. Instead of throwing the jar away, just add 1/2 cup of dry white wine, add a few grinds of black pepper and shake, baby, shake! Boom, sauce!  (Bring to boil in a small sauce pan, reduce to a hard simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. If the sauce breaks (separates) when simmering, just whisk it back into submission once it reduces. Off the heat whisk in 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter (optional, but adds richness).  As is, this makes enough for 4 breasts but scales well to any amount you need if you keep the proportions intact.

If you want to make this sauce and you’re NOT using jar scraps, combine 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard with the wine and pepper and follow the directions, above. Remember, you can adjust the amount of wine and mustard up or down the to your liking.

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Author: gregnelsoncooks

Visit weekly for original and adapted recipes as well as cooking tips to make your kitchen life easier — and more delicious! I’ll include simple, straight forward instructions along with recipes that are truly worth your time making. And, recipes that elevate the familiar and introduce you to the new and unexpected.

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