Lots of chicken dishes, from stir-fries to salads, call for diced breast meat. An even dice ensures uniform cooking and shows off your knife skills too. Plus, cutting chicken breast is easy to do once you know the basics. Many recipes start with raw chicken breast, which is easiest to dice if you start with a boneless, skinless breast.
Starting With Raw Chicken Breast
As soon as you've brought your chicken home from the market, refrigerate it until it's time to cook. The safest way to keep raw chicken is to put it in an airtight, sealed bag, and place that bag on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator to prevent any juices from dripping onto fridge surfaces or other foods. While you're at it, you may want to add some marinade to the bag and whoosh it around every so often.
If you buy fresh chicken, you can freeze it when you get home. Once frozen, it should either stay in the freezer or be thawed in the fridge for one or two days. Don't re-freeze chicken that has already thawed. If possible, though, time your meal preparation so that you're working with slightly frozen chicken, which is actually easier to cut.
By now, everyone is aware that raw chicken and its attendant bacteria can cause problems. You don't want anyone at your supper party coming away with tummy troubles or (heaven forbid!) salmonella. However, the proper approach to this may seem counter-intuitive; do not rinse the chicken first. Water used to rinse the chicken can easily spread to surrounding areas, food and equipment.
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On Being Single-Handed
You'll be doing a lot of touching as you handle the chicken, which increases your chances for cross-contamination. You could run to the sink to wash your hands every two minutes, or you could get into the habit of using only one hand for the chicken, leaving the other hand free for other things. This won't eliminate all hand-cleaning, of course, but at least it should cut down on the number of trips to the sink.
If you touch knobs, handles, walls or other surfaces after handling the chicken, be sure to wipe them down afterwards. Pretend you're at the scene of a crime getting rid of evidence.
Chicken on the Cutting Board
Now you've finally got your unrinsed, boneless chicken breast on a cutting board and a sharp chef's knife in your hand. It's best to use a nonporous cutting surface, which makes it easier to rinse off any juices or scraps later. If the breast is the right thickness to make uniform cubes with the dimensions you want, just grasp the chicken firmly, and with deliberate strokes, slice down its length to make even strips. Then rotate it while still holding it down and slice again to create a crosshatch pattern of evenly matched pieces.
If it's too thick to make the dice as small as you want while keeping the pieces even, you can butterfly the chicken breast. Lay the chicken on the cutting surface, flat-side down; hold it firmly, and slice it in half horizontally, but stop short of cutting it all the way through. Instead, open the breast along the "fold" you've made as though you're opening a book. If it's still not thin enough or if it's uneven, you can cover it with plastic wrap and pound it with a mallet until you've got it the thickness you want.
Dicing a Cooked Chicken Breast
Chicken salads often call for the addition of diced cooked chicken. Dicing a breast that's already been cooked follows the same cutting pattern as the raw version. You can get a good result by poaching the breast in water or chicken stock first, then cutting it into uniform cubes.
Judith Tingley is a writer, editor and multi-media artist based in Louisville, Kentucky. The many articles she has written for online publications reflect a broad range of interests, including international travel, cultural history and cookery. She loves finding adventures along the back roads of America. Judith was educated at the University of Chicago. Visit her website at heyjudetheobscure.com.