Chicken breasts are the ultimate Irish staple; quick to cook, extremely versatile and super healthy.

As part of our Back to Basics series, we’re looking at some common ingredients to help make sure our readers are making the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef and chicken thighs; today we're looking at chicken breast.

It's reported that the average Irish household consumes chicken breasts around three times a week meaning that this cut of meat is extremely popular here. In 2015, Bord Bia reported that consumer demand for poultry had continued to rise year-on-year, with retail sales of fresh and chilled poultry reaching 40,000 tonnes, contributing to the average EU consumption per capita of 22kg. 

Grilled chicken breast with tabbouleh salad. Getty Images.

Grilled chicken breast with tabbouleh salad. Getty Images.

Nutrition and safety 

Nutritionally speaking, chicken breasts are a very healthy addition to any diet as they are packed with protein, vitamin B6 and potassium. They also contain virtually no saturated fat, which is good for those trying to stay heart healthy. 

It's particularly important to ensure that chicken breasts are prepared safely. Raw chicken can contain salmonella, which can be extremely dangerous if ingested. A lot of people think it's important to wash chicken before it's cooked, but it's not a good idea to do this as it's totally unnecessary and can cause chicken juice to splash around your kitchen, allowing bacteria to spread even further. If you're not planning to use the chicken breasts as soon as you buy them, they store very well in the freezer and can be kept for up to nine months if frozen correctly. If storing chicken in the fridge, it's best to only keep them for about two or three days.

Image: Getty Images.

Image: Getty Images.

Cooking chicken

The breast connects to the ribs and can be served with the skin on or off and either bone-in or boneless. The most expensive type is skinless and boneless, as extra processes are needed to fully prepare the chicken. While this type might be the most popular, it isn't the most flavourful. The skin adds fat and flavour to the chicken, so removing it can make the meat bland. The skin also helps to add extra moisture, so if the breast isn't cooked carefully, it can become extremely bland. 

To ensure that you don't dry out your chicken, there are a few steps you should follow:

  • Use a temperature probe when cooking chicken breasts. That way you can make sure that you're chicken is up to temperature before you remove it from the oven, as well as making sure that you don't overcook it and let it dry out.
  • Let chicken breasts rest before slicing them. Like many types of meat, chicken breasts need to rest before they're served. While the chicken is resting, juices will be released and reabsorbed, making sure that the breast stays moist. If the chicken is immediately sliced, the juices will be lost and the chicken will dry out.
  • Use a marinade before cooking chicken breasts. They absorb minimal flavour from marinades, but chicken breasts can really benefit from them. We like to whip up a spicy marinade with paprika, chilli, oregano and lime juice for chicken breasts, then cook them on the barbecue. The marinade and char from the barbecue will add a lot of extra flavour to the chicken.

Courgette and chicken tartine. Image Harry Weir.

Courgette and chicken tartine. Image Harry Weir.

Looking for some recipe inspiration? Read on for some of our favourite chicken breast recipes.

Peruvian chicken skewers. Image by Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.

Peruvian chicken skewers. Image by Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.

How do you like to cook chicken breasts? Let us know in the comments below.