How to Make the Most of One Whole Chicken, Part One: Broiled Tarragon Breasts

I’ll be honest. If I saw a recipe for broiled chicken breasts on a blog, I’d probably stop reading. The words chicken breasts never make my mouth water. Sorry. Blame Liza. I was conditioned at an early age to favor dark meat.

But there’s something about this recipe for breasts that just works. The tarragon-mustard-mayonnaise combo browns and bubbles under the broiler keeping the breasts juicy and tender and flavorful. Even Liza adores this recipe. And I adore how my kitchen smells when these breasts are broiling. It’s up there with onions sautéing in butter and bread baking in the oven and truffle oil drizzled over just about anything.

I go through phases when I make these breasts once a week. I buy a whole chicken, break it down, save the thighs and drumsticks for one meal and the two breasts for another. For the dark meat, I have many recipes that I love (part two of this post to follow shortly), but for the breasts this is it. Just this one. Try it. It couldn’t be simpler. And with the exception of the tarragon, you likely have the ingredients on hand so if you’re disappointed, which would shock me, you won’t have made a huge investment in time or money.

Now, if you enjoy the convenience of buying boneless, skinless chicken parts, read no further. I understand that people are strapped for time. And before I really thought about it, I enjoyed buying packs of boneless skinless chicken thighs myself.

That said, have you ever tried to bone a chicken thigh yourself? It’s hard. Really hard. The process makes you realize just how much these parts have been handled before they reach your kitchen. And while it seems so convenient and cost effective to buy a pack of thighs or drumsticks or boneless breasts, you get so much more out of buying a whole chicken. With one chicken, I can get two meals for two plus 1.5 quarts of chicken stock (at the very least) plus 3 little snacks — 2 chicken tenders and a liver … yum yum yum.

Does the thought of dealing with a whole chicken discourage you? Don’t let it. With a little practice, you’ll soon discover that it’s no big deal. It’s actually quite rewarding. And if you’re organized, in under five minutes, one meal will be minutes from completion, another will be prepped for tomorrow, and your chicken will be in pieces, its carcass simmering on the stovetop promising you a batch of stock tastier and healthier than anything you could buy at the store.

The key is being organized. I’ve included a little video below. All of you pros out there, please don’t laugh — this video is not for you. This is just how I do it. And this is how I set up my station before I start hacking:

• 2 cutting boards
• 1 sharp knife
• trash can nearby with lid removed
• ziplock back nearby, opened, with top part folded over for easy entering
• stock pot
• plate
• mallet
• plastic wrap

You’ll notice in the video that I throw bits of the chicken in the stockpot. When I’m through breaking it down, I fill the pot with water, bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for about 3 hours. That’s it. Making homemade chicken stock is no big deal. If you have onions, carrots, celery to add to the pot, great. If you don’t, don’t sweat it. And this is how you know you’ve made good stock.

Broiled Tarragon Chicken Breasts

Serves 2 generously

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts*, pounded to about 3/4-inch thickness
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 T. mayonnaise**
1 T. mustard
chopped fresh tarragon, lots of it, at least 3 tablespoons

* Preferably cut from a whole chicken. Pound the breasts just so they are even — they might be thicker or thinner than 3/4 of an inch.
** If you want to be really gourmet, make the homemade version, recipe below

1. Preheat the broiler to high.

2. Season both sides of each breast with kosher salt and pepper. Mix mayo, mustard and tarragon together. Grease a broiler pan with olive oil. Place breasts on the pan and spoon half (or a little less than half) of the mayo-mustard mixture over the breasts.

3. Broil 3 minutes. Remove pan. Flip breasts. Spread remaining mayo-mustard mixture over the breasts. Return to the broiler and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes longer, depending on the thickness of the breasts.

Homemade Mayonnaise

Note: This is just for all of you Liza-types out there. Before I discovered that store-bought mayo works just as nicely as homemade in this chicken recipe, I made the mayo from scratch, too. Up to you.
Yield = 1.25 cups

1 egg yolk
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. Dijon mustard
pinch salt and pepper
1 cup regular olive oil (not extra virgin) or grapeseed oil

1. Whisk together the yolk, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper.

2. Start beating vigorously while slowly drizzling in the olive oil. Beat until thick and smooth.

21 Comments

  1. So glad you posted the video about cutting up a chicken. I learned eons ago from my mother, but always felt guilty that I never taught my daughter – she was vegetarian at the time – but it’s something that too many cooks are afraid of because they don’t know how. Dealing with a whole chicken in the home is a more efficient system, and less costly, than buying the parts plus the stock! Looking forward to the receipe once I can find fresh tarragon!

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  2. Ok – you just made that splitting that chicken way too easy for me to not want to try it for myself. You’re a pro! And this chicken breast recipe looks superb! Can’t wait to give it a try for msyelf because we eat LOTS of chicken breast at my house.

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  3. Ali. I’m obsessed with this video of you cutting up a chicken. I just forwarded it to a bunch of my classmates here. I wish I had as much finesse as you do when it comes to butchery! I hope that you and baby girl are doing well.

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  4. Ali- I love your blog. I’ve been reading for a couple years (ever since I was randomly googling Alta brussle sprouts and stumbled upon your recreation of the amazing side dish!) Thanks for posting such great recipes, with such beautiful photos to accompany them!

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  5. Yours is one of the best blogs out there. Love the recipes and photos. Now I feel ashamed that as experienced a home cook as I am, I rarely cut up whole chickens in my kitchen. It always seems as if it would take longer than 5 minutes.

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  6. Last night I cut up my first whole chicken and you were right- it is rewarding!! My stock is on the stove simmering now and the chicken breasts are waiting to be smothered in some tarragon mayo this evening! Can’t wait for that. Thanks for posting the video tutorial. I found it very helpful. I wasn’t nearly as quick as you were, but with some practice maybe some day I might be! (I’ll need a sharper knife that’s for sure)
    Thanks again for all your tips :)

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  7. I grew up having to cut chickens up simply because whole chickens were all my mother purchased. They were far less expensive. We at them, gizzards, and all. I’ve always preferred dark meat, but have found many recipes where a breast will come out tender and moist. Brining works very well. The flavors in your dish sound wonderful — thanks for sharing it, and yes, I’ll remember 1/3 cup!

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  8. I must begin by saying I’m usually a fish girl, and only rarely eat chicken. I saw your post and couldn’t resist trying your chicken recipes because they made me drool.

    Over the past 2 days I have done everything you suggested with the whole chicken I picked up at the farmer’s market. Everything was delicious, even the breasts that I made with thyme instead of tarragon (had it left over from legs/thighs). They were so moist and flavorful. Thanks for making the intimidating act of cutting up a chicken a piece of cake!

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  9. I love this recipe so much that even after a misstep on my first endeavor (accidentally carved my knuckle) I stuck with it and have made it five times since! Thank you!

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  10. Been meaning to make these for ages and finally got around to it last night, swapping out the tarragon for basil and parsley. Thanks for sharing this one – it really is a preparation that yields a product greater than the sum of the parts. I served the meat sliced with a salad of radish and romaine, scattered with the kernels sliced from a couple of ears of early corn. Plus! it gave me a chance to re-watch that mesmerizing chicken butchery video of yours!

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    • Yay! So great to hear this Emily. It takes a lot for me to like a chicken breast, but this is a recipe I always return to. So glad you approve. Your salad sounds lovely. I always think of you when CSA season arrives. I have such good memories of getting to reading terminal market to pick up my box. All of a sudden feels like a long time ago. Hope you are well! xo

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