Cooking chicken breasts can be fraught with dry danger. There is a very fine line between moist and tender, and dry and tough. In other recipes, I use chicken thighs because the brown meat is always moist and it has a much richer taste. But, when I do cook the breast meat, I opt for searing heat on the stove and then into the oven for the bulk of the cooking. This way always gives me a moist and tender fillet.
I begin by letting the pan heat up to searing hot and I never add oil to the pan. I massage a very small amount of oil into the flesh and leave it at that. Even though chicken breasts are very lean, there is a small layer of fat just under the skin, which is drawn from the flesh during the cooking. I would recommend avoiding skinless breasts, there is a discernable difference.
I use vermouth in this sauce because I love the way it complements the chicken and the lemon. But you can use a dry white wine if you have it a hand. And the best thing about making the sauce it that it forces you to let the chicken rest for a good while. Letting the meat rest is crucial for a moist tender dish. You can of course omit the sauce or change it completely to suit your tastes.
2 Chicken fillets with skin on, and brought to room temperature for ½ hour
1 quarter segment of preserved lemon, very finely diced
1 tbs dried thyme
1 spring onion (scallions), sliced very finely
50-60mls extra-dry vermouth
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C
Rub the chicken fillets with a very small amount of vegetable oil, and season with sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and the dried thyme.
Place an ovenproof pan on high heat, and allow it to reach smoking hot. Place the chicken fillets on the hot pan with skin side down. Add the preserved lemon and leave the fillets to sear without turning them. When the skin is a nutty golden brown, turn the fillets over and place the pan in the hot oven. Set the timer for 7 minutes.
After the first seven minutes, turn the chicken fillets over, at which point the skin side should be face down and continue to roast in the oven for further 7 minutes.
Prepare a plate with aluminum foil.
Remove the chicken from the pan and place them directly on the foil and wrap them tightly. Leave them to rest for a final 7 minutes.
Place the pan on a medium heat and deglaze the pan with the vermouth (or dry white wine). Add the spring onions and continue to stir. When the vermouth has reduced by half, add the butter and reduce the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the chicken fillets and spoon the sauce over the top. Serve with vegetables or salad.