We love boneless chicken breasts — they’re the perfect quick-cooking lean protein for weeknight meals. However, as any home chef knows, they’re super easy to overcook, leaving you with dried-out meat that’s less than appetizing. That’s why we were intrigued to learn about “airline chicken” (which is also known as “airline chicken cut”). The quirky-named chicken cut consists of a boneless breast with a drumette still attached. The combo ends ups juicier and more tender than other poultry cuts. It’s a favorite among professional chefs, but you can get your hands on it too (without the restaurant prices) and turn dinner into an extra special treat. Here’s the scoop on airline chicken breasts, the best ways to cook them, plus easy recipes ready in just an hour.
What is airline chicken breast?
Airline chicken breasts are boneless with the skin on and bone-in drumette attached. Since it’s a specialty cut, you’re more likely find it in a butcher shop instead of your grocery store’s meat aisle — that said, some supermarket meat counters will cut airline chicken on request. Airline chicken also tends to be a bit pricier than standard chicken breasts. For instance, Farmingdale Meat Market in New York sells airline chicken breasts for $7.89 per pound, while their boneless, skinless chicken breasts cost $5.49 per pound. Still, many chefs say it’s worth the extra price since it’s prepared in a way to guarantee flavorful and moist chicken.
Why is it called ‘airline’ chicken breast?
As the name suggests, this cut of chicken is inspired by airplane food. In fact, a common theory is that it was popularized during the 1960s as an in-flight dinner option that could fit perfectly into a tray or dish. It’s certainly not far-fetched that it gained attention during the golden age of travel. But another explanation for the name relates to how the chicken looks like a plane and one of its wings — as if it’s about to “fly” off of the plate and onto your fork. Who knew a chicken breast could have such a fun name and unique history to go with it!
3 reasons to cook airline chicken breasts
The chicken’s appearance and name are a fun draw for many; however, there’s more than what meets the eye. Here are three reasons airline chicken breasts are worth trying if you’re looking for a new way to enjoy poultry.
1. Airline chicken cut stays super juicy
The skin still being on the chicken provides extra moisture to the meat so it doesn’t dry out . Plus, the marrow-filled bone in the drumette also releases moisture and flavor as it cooks. (Click through for more flavor-infused bone-in chicken recipes.)
2. Airline cut chicken is very versatile
You don’t need to go searching for a fancy recipe that showcases this chicken’s flavor and texture. According to Greg Burroughs, chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Virginia, airline chicken breasts are a versatile cut that can be prepared in a variety of ways. “You just sear it, you can bake this, you can stuff it, you can do so many things with it,” he says. Whether you pan-sear, roast or bake this poultry, always dress it up with your favorite herbs and seasonings including this Tuscan heat spice blend for spicy and pungent flavors.
3. Airline chicken cut is easy to slice and serve
Once cooked to juicy perfection, airline chicken breasts are a breeze to cut up and plate — especially if you’re aiming for restaurant-style flair. “I could cut it with the lines of the body, fan it out and put it in a swirl, and that almost makes it like a cone,” Burroughs says.
In the video below, cooking YouTuber Adam Ragusea shows the process of slicing an airline chicken breast at the 7:33 mark for tender meat. (For tips on slicing other kinds of meats, check out these stories on how to cut flank steak and how to carve a Thanksgiving turkey.)
2 airline chicken breast recipes
Cooking airline chicken breasts makes weeknight dinner feel like a special occasion – all with the effort of regular poultry. Give these recipes a go the next time you’re looking to prepare an absolute winner of a chicken dinner!
Stuffed Airline Chicken Breasts
With a few flavor-packed ingredients like feta, roasted red peppers and mixed fresh herbs, you can take dinner from ho-hum to yum.
- 6 airline chicken breasts, about 8 oz. each
- ½ tsp. dried thyme
- ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese, about 3 oz.
- 3 oz. cream cheese
- 1 Tbs. chopped drained roasted red peppers from a jar
- 2 Tbs. chopped mixed fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme and/or rosemary
- Active: 20 mins
- Total time: 1 hr.
- Yield: 6 servings
- Heat oven to 375°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil; coat with cooking spray. Cut 3-inch-wide pocket into edge of each breast, cutting almost to bone. Sprinkle outside of chicken with dried thyme, ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper.
- In small bowl, combine feta, cream cheese, red peppers and chopped herbs. Evenly divide cheese mixture among pockets; secure openings with toothpicks.
- Transfer chicken to foil on baking sheet. Roast until no longer pink near bone and meat thermometer inserted into thickest part registers 165°F, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove toothpicks before serving.
Easy variation: Make Spinach-Mushroom Stuffed Chicken by using Boursin garlic-and-herb cheese in place of cream cheese and herbs; add 2 Tbs. each chopped cooked spinach and mushrooms.
Cast-Iron Airline Cut Chicken Paprika
Onions cooked in pan juices add even more irresistible flavor to this stovetop meal.
- 2 (5 to 6 oz.) airline chicken breasts
- Kosher salt
- ½ tsp. sweet, smoky or hot paprika
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, grated
- 1 yellow onion, halved, thinly sliced
- 8 (oz.) white button mushrooms, stemmed, sliced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
- Active: 20 mins
- Total time: 1 hr.
- Yield: 2 servings
- Season chicken: Season both sides of chicken with sprinkle of salt and use small fine-mesh strainer to dust the chicken with paprika.
- Cook chicken: In cast-iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat until it smokes lightly. Remove from heat; add chicken breasts, rounded side down, leaving space between. Return to heat; cook until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip chicken and cook until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part registers 165°F, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate to rest.
- Make sauce: Discard all but some grease from pan. Add garlic, onion, mushrooms and pinch of salt. Over medium heat, cook until mushrooms are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add wine; reduce until liquid cooks down. Stir in splash of water, zest and juice. Taste for seasoning and reduce heat to medium-low.
- Serve: Place breasts in sauce and spoon sauce over meat, warming it gently so it stays moist. Serve with sauce.
For more tasty ways to make chicken, read the stories below: