What I am presenting here is a really simple, base recipe for cooking chicken breast on the stove. It's seasoned only with salt and freshly ground pepper, but once you master the timing and the art of completely ignoring the chicken while it cooks (key step), you could then branch out and start experimenting with any seasoning mix that you want. A spicy cajun rub, or a mix of rosemary and sea salt, would be particularly good. I usually end up defaulting to salt and pepper though, cooking up 3 or 4 chicken breasts at once, and slicing up the extras to add to salad or make sandwiches to take to work during the week.
Skillet-Cooked Chicken Breasts
Even though this is a straightforward method, there are so many things to tell you. First, choose a heavy skillet for cooking- it conducts heat better. Second, cook the chicken on high heat. It will smoke. A lot. Just turn on the fan or open the windows, and don't worry. Third, use a lot of pepper. The more pepper, the better. Fourth, try not to touch the chicken at all! And definitely don't poke it or cut into it to check whether the middle is cooked- that's a surefire way to lose all those delicious juices and dry it out.
1. Take the chicken breasts out of the refrigerator. The chicken should be fairly uniform in thickness. If it is not, put the breasts into a plastic bag and pound them with the back of the skillet until they are even in thickness. Do not go so far as to pound them flat like a schnitzel. You just want them to cook evenly - I don't usually end up having to pound my chicken at all, as it's fairly uniform in cut when I buy it. Liberally salt and pepper one side of the chicken breasts.
2. Turn the stove to high, and drizzle a thin layer of olive oil into the skillet.
3. When the oil is hot, lay the chicken breast seasoned side down in the skillet. Salt and pepper the other side while it is in the pan.
4. Do not touch the chicken for 5 minutes. The oil will splatter and the pan will probably begin to smoke. But you need to not move the chicken at all. Just open the windows!
5. After exactly 5 minutes, using tongs, flip the chicken over, and cook for another 5 minutes. In the last few minutes it should get extra smoky. But that's good, because you want some browning and crisping on the outside. 5 minutes on each side on high heat should be perfect, unless you have a really large, thick breast, in which case 6-7 minutes might be more appropriate. The chicken that I buy in Germany always takes 5 minutes per side though.
6. Remove the chicken from the pan, and allow it to rest for another 5-10 minutes. It will finish cooking itself inside while it is resting.
7. Eat up! The chicken is excellent plain, with a side of vegetables or potatoes, and I also often eat it with some sort of sauce, for example yogurt or balsamic cream.