9 Ways to Turn a Boring Chicken Breast into a Flavor Explosion

By Christine Byrne |

Read this, and you’ll never eat a bland bird again!

Flavorful chicken breast in pan

Before cooking, a 3.5-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast packs an impressive 23 grams of protein and only 120 calories. So if you like the taste of chicken-flavored air, dinner is served.

As for the rest of us, consider the chicken breast a blank canvas waiting to be marinated, rubbed, or braised to flavor-packed perfection—without adding a ton of extra fat and calories.

If you’re trying to eat healthy but sick of dried-out chicken strips on top of salads or boring roasted breasts alongside vegetables, here are some incredibly simple, mouthwatering solutions.

Flavor Trick #1: Marinate Whole or Sliced Chicken Breasts for 30 to 90 Minutes Before Cooking

Marinating not only adds flavor, but the combination of healthy fat and acid in most recipes also helps tenderize the meat. A good marinade is roughly three parts oil to one part acid, plus salt and other seasonings like spices, crushed garlic, or a little natural sugar.

In terms of quantity, you need enough marinade to generously coat your meat, but not so much that you totally drown it. And try not to leave your chicken in the marinade for more than 90 minutes. It won’t make the meat more flavorful; it’ll just make it tough.

You can pat the chicken breasts dry before cooking or leave them coated in some marinade. Just make sure they aren’t dripping wet.

Here are a few basic recipes that yield about one cup of marinade, which is plenty for a pound of chicken breasts or about two to three breasts:

  • Lemon-Garlic: ¾ cup olive oil + ¼ cup lemon juice + 4 cloves crushed garlic + 1 teaspoon paprika + pinch of salt
  • Balsamic: ¾ cup olive oil + ¼ cup balsamic vinegar + 2 teaspoons fresh oregano + pinch of salt
  • Peanut-Soy: ⅔ cup peanut oil + ¼ cup rice vinegar + 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Sweet and Tangy: ¾ cup canola oil + ¼ cup apple cider vinegar + 3 tablespoons maple syrup + pinch of salt
  • Lazy Chef’s Marinade: Simply use sriracha or barbecue sauce as your marinade. With salt, acid, and rich flavor, these condiments are a great shortcut. Since there’s minimal fat in either one, only marinate chicken breasts for 30 minutes to keep them from drying out.

Flavor Trick #2: Add a Simple Spice Rub for Instant Gratification

Marinating is great—when you have time to spare. And if you’re grilling or working with an open flame, a marinade can get messy or even cause a grease fire if you don’t pat your meat dry. For instant, mess-free flavor, opt for a spice rub instead.

Here are four simple rubs to try. Each yields more than enough for a pound of chicken breasts, so store any extra rub in an airtight container at room temperature:

  • Chili-Lime: 1 tablespoon chili powder + 1 teaspoon paprika + 1 teaspoon salt + zest of 1 lime
  • Fall Flavors: 1 tablespoon cumin + 1 teaspoon cinnamon + 1 teaspoon ground ginger + 1 teaspoon salt + 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • Mole: 1 tablespoon chili powder + 1 tablespoon paprika + 2 teaspoons cumin + 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano + 2 teaspoons brown sugar + 1 teaspoon cocoa powder + 1 teaspoon salt
  • Classic Poultry Seasoning: 1 teaspoon dried basil + 1 teaspoon dried rosemary + 1 teaspoon salt + ½ teaspoon garlic powder + ½ teaspoon mustard powder + ½ teaspoon black pepper

Flavor Trick #3: Rub Chicken Breasts with Pesto

One of the easiest, most flavorful shortcuts for chicken breasts is to coat each one in pesto before roasting in a 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes. You can buy pesto at most grocery stores, or make your own with this simple recipe.

You’ll need:

  • 2 packages basil leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup whole almonds
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic

What to do: Pulse all ingredients in a food processor.

This pesto recipe also works great with whole wheat pasta for a quick power meal.

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Flavor Trick #4: Use a Slow Cooker to Make Shredded Chicken for a Week

If you’re sick of sliced chicken breasts, shake things up with shredded meat. A little bit of salsa in the recipe below adds tons of flavor without being overpowering.

You can make a big batch and then use shredded chicken as a salad topper, taco filling, or turn it into enchiladas or a casserole.

You’ll need:

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup salsa or salsa verde
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What to do: Add all ingredients to a slow cooker. Cook on high for 3 to 4 hours. Once cooked, remove the chicken breasts, and shred the meat using two forks.

Allow it to cool completely before storing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.

Want an extra kick? Turn this recipe into buffalo shredded chicken by subbing in ½ cup hot sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot, for the salsa.

Flavor Trick #5: Make Grown-Up Chicken Fingers with Panko and Honey Mustard

Chicken fingers may be known as kid food, but they’re great no matter your age. Using crispy panko breadcrumbs and spicy mustard powder makes them feel a little more grown up—and is healthier than deep frying.

You’ll need:

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon spicy mustard powder, such as Coleman’s dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch thick strips

What to do: Preheat oven to 400° F, and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine egg, honey, mustard, and salt. In a separate medium bowl, combine panko and parsley. Place flour in a small bowl.

Bread chicken strips one at a time by rolling it in flour and shaking off any excess. Then, dip the strip in the egg mixture, and shake off any excess. Finally, pat it into the panko mixture, coating it with as much panko as possible. Transfer to the lined sheet pan. Repeat with each chicken strip. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Flavor Trick #6: Braise Chicken Breasts in Tomato Sauce

This tasty method works great whether you’re starting with homemade or store-bought tomato sauce.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 cups homemade or store-bought tomato sauce

What to do: Heat olive oil in a large pot with a lid. Once the oil is hot but not smoking, add chicken breasts and sear about 3 minutes per side, until they’re totally opaque on the outside.

Add tomato sauce, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover the pot, and cook 10 to 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Flavor Trick #7: Transform Leftover Breasts into Coronation Chicken Salad

Based on the chicken salad served at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, this dish is made with a fun and surprising mix of curry powder, fruit, and herbs. It’s traditionally made with a large dose of mayonnaise, but you can use a combination of mayo and Greek yogurt to cut back on saturated fat and calories.

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound chicken breast, cooked and cut into small cubes
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • ⅓ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped white onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dried apricots or raisins
  • 1 tablespoon chopped almonds
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon mustard powder

What to do: Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Serve over salad or on sandwiches. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.

Flavor Trick #8: Revive Leftover Chicken Breasts in Vegetable Quesadillas

If you have leftover meat that’s a little too dried out to eat on its own, chop it up and mix it with a little bit of cheddar cheese, a handful of leafy greens, and some cooked vegetables like peppers, onions, or broccoli.

Fold the mixture into whole wheat tortillas, then brown your quesadillas in a pan until the cheese is melted. The result will be a flavor-packed, high-protein meal!

Flavor Trick #9: Stuff Chicken Breasts with Vegetables, Herbs, and Cheese

Stuffed chicken sounds fancy, but it’s surprisingly simple to make. Slice your chicken breasts crosswise, so that each one opens like a book.

Add a mixture of chopped vegetables, herbs, and cheese, then fold each breast closed. Season with salt and pepper, and roast at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the filling is hot.

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