Cooking Tips

Velveting Is the Key to Perfectly Seared Chicken Breasts

This coating protects the chicken from getting overcooked while also delivering the perfect crust.

Published Sept. 28, 2021.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are convenient and versatile. There’s lots of different ways you can cook them, but making them on the stove produces the best crust. The problem? It also produces unevenly cooked chicken. The high heat from the pan overcooks the exterior before the interior reaches a safe temperature. Luckily, Cook’s Illustrated test cook Keith Dresser found a way to achieve the flavorful brown crust without overcooking the meat.

In his recipe for Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts, Keith uses a two-step cooking process, parcooking the breasts in the oven before transferring them to the stove for a final sear. But the key to that perfect crust without overcooking the parcooked meat is an easy technique known as velveting.

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Velveting is a Chinese cooking technique used in stir-frying. It involves coating meat in a combination of cooking fat (usually oil or melted butter) and cornstarch. This slurry adds a protective layer to the chicken, keeping it moist and juicy during the high-heat cooking process.

Keith adapted the technique for the bigger chicken breasts. He found that a mixture of three parts flour and one part cornstarch produced a perfectly browned crust that was still tender, not leathery. Here’s how to do it:

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After your chicken has parcooked in the oven, and you’re waiting for your oiled skillet to heat up, whisk together 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, and some ground black pepper. Brush the mixture onto one side of the chicken and sear, coated side down, for three to four minutes. As the chicken sears, brush the other side with your slurry and flip, reduce heat to medium, and finish cooking until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

So the next time you’re making boneless, skinless breasts, velvet them. You’ll never have to eat an overcooked piece again.

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