Chicken fillets are a cut of chicken usually taken from the breast or thigh region of the bird. They are boneless pieces of meat that are mostly flat, although not usually of a consistent thickness through the length of the meat. There are numerous uses for chicken fillets, largely because they are an extremely versatile cut of poultry that can be served whole or carved into smaller pieces for use in other recipes. The malleable nature of the fillets has led to their use in dishes such as Chicken Cordon Bleu, in which the fillet is stuffed, and rolled chicken in which the fillet is pounded out flat. Ultimately, chicken fillets are just solid blocks of meat and can be shaped and molded to suit the requirements of nearly any recipe.
One of the benefits of using chicken fillets in cooking is that they can be cooked very quickly. Heat moves quickly through the meat, allowing it to cook internally before the surface has a chance to burn, which can be useful when the meat is breaded. This makes diced chicken fillets, especially ones made from thigh meat, perfect for stir frying.
There are many methods that can be used to cook chicken fillets. One of the most used is frying, in which the entire piece is placed in a hot skillet and cooked until done while developing a brown crust on the outside keeping the inside tender. A simple, traditional preparation takes the bits of browned chicken left in the pan and turns them into a pan sauce by deglazing the bottom with wine, butter or stock.
It also is possible to cook chicken fillets in the oven, although care has to be taken to prevent them from overcooking and drying out. They can be steamed over boiling water to provide a very moist and neutral taste when being used in other dishes. The fillets also can be poached in water, wine or a soup-like stock. Barbecued chicken fillets are very common, especially when coated in a sweet barbecue sauce or marinated in soy sauce and ginger.
There are many recipes that call for the fillet to be further butchered. It can be diced so it cooks quickly or mashed into ground chicken, because there are no bones. One common technique used to ensure even cooking is to butterfly the meat. This involves cutting the fillet lengthwise from the side — but not all the way through the meat — and then folding it open to make a larger piece that has a more even thickness all around. A similar result can be achieved by pounding the chicken fillet out gently until it has flattened.