Frozen chicken breasts, whether they have bones or skin attached, can be cooked from frozen, but thawed breasts cook more evenly and quickly. To keep chicken safe and prevent foodborne illness, only defrost frozen breasts in the fridge, microwave or in a cold water bath. Never leave frozen breasts out at room temperature to defrost. Thawed breasts, depending on the defrost method, can be stored in the fridge for several days until ready to use.
The safest way to defrost chicken breasts is overnight in the refrigerator. Place the packaged chicken breasts in a bowl, plastic container or pan and leave them overnight in the fridge. The colder the fridge is, the longer it will take for the breasts to thaw. Similarly, large packets of breast meat, especially when closely packed together, will thaw more slowly. Even small pieces of boneless chicken breast require a full day in the fridge to thaw out completely.
Chicken breasts can also be thawed in the microwave. Place the frozen breasts in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat on the defrost setting for two minutes. Rotate the breast to ensure even thawing, and defrost one minute at a time, turning after each minute, until the breast is fully defrosted. It will take roughly three to four minutes to fully defrost a small, boneless chicken breast.
Water Bath Method
Placing the chicken breasts in a water bath can speed up the thawing process, but only use cold tap water that you change regularly. Do not submerge the breasts in warm or hot water. Place the breasts in a leak-proof container or plastic bag, to prevent bacteria from the surrounding environment to be introduced to the food. If the chicken is left in direct contact with water, it may also absorb liquid, leading to a watery tasting breast. Submerge the package of breasts in cold water, changing it every 30 minutes until the meat is completely defrosted. It can take two to three hours to fully defrost a 3- to 4-pound package of chicken breasts.
Storing Chicken Breasts
Chicken breasts that have been defrosted in the fridge can be stored, well-wrapped, in the fridge for two to three days before they need to be cooked. Breasts that have been defrosted in the microwave or in a water bath need to be cooked immediately. This is especially true for microwave defrosted chicken. You can marinate thawed chicken in the fridge, covered, either overnight for fridge and water-thawed chicken, or for no more than 20 minutes for microwave-thawed chicken.
David Grimes has worked professionally as a chef since 2002, in settings as wide-ranging as a corporate caterer and as a sous chef in a Michelin-starred French restaurant. He has been writing about food since 2009 and published in "Time Out New York" and "Food and Wine" magazine.