The Parchment Paper Hack That Prevents Chicken Breast From Drying Out

Chicken breasts are tasty, versatile, and easily available at nearly every grocery store and supermarket. But there's one frequent downside to this popular cut. It's ultra-lean and can often dry out if home cooks aren't careful. But a common kitchen item could be the key to preventing that unwelcome fate: parchment paper.

The technique could hardly be simpler: season your chicken, place it in a baking dish, and then cover it with lightly oiled parchment paper, tucking the paper under the breasts to help it stay in place. As steam escapes the chicken while cooking, the parchment paper traps this moisture, creating a self-contained environment that resists drying out. Home chefs can also use a traditional French version of this method, known as "en papillote," which roughly translates to "in paper." This technique secures chicken, fish, or other proteins inside a lightly sealed packet of parchment paper, helping further trap heat and moisture.

In both cases, the parchment paper acts similarly to how natural skin would for the typically skinless breasts. In addition to keeping more moisture in the meat itself, it also protects the surface from the harsh, high heat of the oven.

How to use parchment paper to retain moisture

Cooking chicken in parchment paper also has flavor benefits. By creating a more tightly sealed environment, it's easier to imbue more subtle flavors through herbs and other aromatics that could burn or quickly degrade in less forgiving settings. Plus, cooks can use less seasoning, knowing that flavors will be retained better.

Those taking advantage of this tip should remember there are also some trade-offs involved in securing the juiciest possible chicken breasts. The high levels of moisture created by the technique make it difficult for the chicken's exterior to brown effectively, removing an important source of flavor and texture. 

Using parchment paper can also take far longer than cooking chicken breasts in a pan or on the grill – up to 40 minutes or more, in some cases. You should also make sure you're not making any of the common mistakes everyone makes when using parchment paper, like putting the wrong side up.