For many households, the answer to the question, "What's for dinner tonight?" is the same. A boneless, skinless chicken breast is often the quick, easy solution, even though they are often overcooked and our recipes for them tend toward the same old, same old.

I didn't cook my first boneless, skinless chicken breast until the late 1970s. The recipe was Supremes de Volaille a Blanc from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." You couldn't buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts back then, so I selected whole ones and carefully halved, boned, skinned and trimmed them myself. With all the special preparation and the fancy French title, those precious morsels were definitely dinner party fare.

In the intervening years, I've learned a lot about the art of sauteing and about boneless chicken. Sauteing is a simple technique, and once you learn it, you can cook chicken breasts, turkey cutlets, boneless pork chops and even fish fillets. I'm a pretty decent saute cook now, but I haven't always been. Over time, I've learned that to saute chicken breasts properly, you must start by heating the pan before you ever touch the chicken. Since neither oil nor butter is ideal, use a combination of the two. Butter for flavor; oil to increase the smoking point. As soon as you turn on the burner to low, add the butter and oil. Slow, steady heat keeps it from wildly sizzling, spitting, smoking and burning.

Just as important as heating the oil and butter to the right temperature is choosing the right-size skillet. If you use a 12-inch skillet to saute one chicken breast, the large empty surface will smoke excessively. Try cramming four into an 8-inch skillet, and you'll kill the heat and steam the meat. The chicken breasts should fit in the pan comfortably with only a little space in between.

While the fat slowly comes to the proper temperature, trim the breast of excess fat and cartilage. Also trim off the tenderloin, the small flap of skin on the underside of the breast. Removing the tenderloin makes the breast an almost even thickness, guaranteeing fast, even cooking. You can cook the tenderloin separately.

Should chicken breasts be dredged in flour before sauteing? I think so. A bare chicken breast tends to turn leathery from the high heat. I also like the almost-fried look and flavor of coated chicken breasts.

When you're a couple of minutes away from sauteing, increase the heat to a strong medium-high until the oil is hot but not smoking and the milk solids in the butter turn golden brown and smell nutty. Just to be sure, flick a little of the dredging flour into the pan. If it sizzles enthusiastically for a split second and immediately turns golden, the pan is ready. Drop in the breasts and saute until golden brown, about three minutes. Turn them and saute for another three minutes. That's it.

There's no need to pinch, prod, poke or push around the chicken. If the oil temperature and pan size are right, the breasts should be done with one turn in about six minutes.

Occasionally, I'll serve sauteed chicken breasts with a wedge of lemon, a salsa or an uncooked relish, but more often, I make a quick pan sauce once I remove the meat from the skillet. I hate washing all the pan drippings down the drain. And besides, making a sauce cleans the pan. This initial "wash" loosens up the brown bits, making cleanup no more than a sponge wipe and quick rinse.

Many classic pan sauce recipes start with sauteing garlic or shallots, continue with the reduction of fairly large quantities of wine, stock or juice and are not complete without a substantial butter or heavy cream enrichment. I don't mind the extra time or calories for a special meal, but for weeknights I want a sauce that is flavorful, quick and light.

My first step in speeding up the process is to skip the garlic and shallots. While there's hardly a pan sauce that wouldn't benefit from a little shallot or garlic, for time's sake I usually leave them out. Next, I decrease the amount of liquid to be reduced. I've found that just 1/2 cup liquid reduces to the proper consistency in a couple of minutes. With flavor additions such as capers or dried fruit and a modest amount of butter, there is an overflowing tablespoon of flavorful sauce for each person--more than enough for a weeknight dinner.

Mild liquids such as low-sodium chicken broth and orange juice and sweet, fortified wines like Marsala, Madeira, vermouth and port make fine sauces on their own. Reduce a straight 1/2 cup of any of these liquids in a pan of chicken drippings and you'll get a decent sauce.

Acidic liquids, however, need taming. A sauce made from straight lemon juice or vinegar, for example, is too harsh. For these, use a mix of six tablespoons of chicken broth, fortified wine or juice for every two tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar (for a total of 1/2 cup of liquid).

Though not harsh, pan sauces made with straight red or white wine taste weak, sour and off kilter. Cutting the wine with an equal amount of low-sodium chicken broth balances the sauce. For wine sauces, use 1/4 cup each chicken broth and wine (for a total of 1/2 cup liquid). Also, a red wine sauce needs some Dijon mustard flavoring.

When using two different liquids in a pan sauce, some recipes call for reducing one liquid before adding the other. Not with the recipes that follow. While the chicken sautes, measure all the pan sauce ingredients into a measuring cup and pour them into the skillet where they will simmer together.

While I want my pan sauces to be light, I find that one without a little fat is brash and intense. Not only does butter (heavy cream or olive oil) enrich and soften flavors, it also thickens the sauce. A small amount of sauce, however, requires only a small amount of butter. Just one miraculous tablespoon of butter or olive oil (or 2 tablespoons heavy cream) takes a sauce from puckery to pleasant.

Sauteed Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

(4 servings)

Pull the tenderloin--the flap of meat attached to a boneless, skinless chicken breast--from each breast half and saute them separately. Some brands of chicken breasts come with their tenderloins already removed.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed of fat

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup flour measured into a pie plate or other shallow pan

Lemon wedges or pan sauce (see following recipes)

Pull the tenderloins from the chicken breasts. Place the breasts between 2 sheets of wax paper and pound or roll until even in thickness.

In a 11- or 12-inch skillet over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil.

Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts and tenderloins with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge the chicken in the flour. Set aside.

A couple of minutes before sauteing, increase the heat to medium-high. When the butter stops foaming, turns brown and starts to smell nutty, transfer the chicken breasts and the tenderloins to the skillet. Cook, turning only once, until the chicken breasts are golden brown, about 3 minutes per side (tenderloins will be done a little sooner). Remove the chicken from the skillet.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges or a pan sauce.

Per 6-ounce serving (without sauce): 215 calories, 39 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 103 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 181 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Marsala Wine Pan Sauce

(4 servings) 1/2 cup Marsala wine

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the wine and boil over medium-high heat until it is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 48 calories, trace protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 2 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber

Red Wine-Dijon Pan Sauce

(4 servings)

1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth 1/4 cup full-bodied red wine

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the broth, wine and mustard and boil until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 41 calories, trace protein, trace carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 15 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Mustard Cream Pan Sauce

(4 servings)

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard

2 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

To the drippings in the skillet, add the broth and mustard and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the reduced liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the cream until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a portion of the sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 37 calories, 1 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 119 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Curried Chutney Pan Sauce

(4 servings)

6 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons prepared chutney, such as Major Grey's 1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the broth, vinegar, chutney and curry and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 47 calories, trace protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 32 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Quick Veloute

(4 servings)

1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup dry vermouth

2 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

To the drippings in the skillet, add the broth and vermouth and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the cream until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 44 calories, trace protein, trace carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 10 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber

Orange-Dijon Pan Sauce With Rosemary

(4 servings)

1/2 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the orange juice, mustard and rosemary and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 43 calories, trace protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 8 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Sauternes Pan Sauce With Figs and Pistachios

(4 servings)

1/2 cup Sauternes (or substitute any sweet dessert wine, such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer)

8 dried figs, quartered

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios

To the drippings in the skillet, add the Sauternes and figs and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast, sprinkle with the pistachios and serve immediately.

Per serving: 173 calories, 2 gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 5 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber

Balsamic Pan Sauce

(4 servings)

One tablespoon each of raisins and toasted pine nuts can be added.

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the vinegar and broth and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 50 calories, trace protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 10 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber

Lemon-Caper Pan Sauce

(4 servings)

6 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons drained capers

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the broth, lemon juice and capers and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 32 calories, trace protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 64 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Port Wine Pan Sauce With Dried Cherries or Cranberries

(4 servings)

Soak the dried fruit in the port while the chicken is sauteing. 1/2 cup port wine

2 tablespoons dried cherries or cranberries

2 teaspoons seedless raspberry jam or red currant jelly

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the wine, cherries or cranberries and jam or jelly and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 95 calories, trace protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 3 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Simple Pan Sauce With Green Grapes

(4 servings)

If you're watching your fat intake or prefer a more elegant presentation, skip the cream.

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup green grapes, halved

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

To the drippings in the skillet, add the broth, grapes and rosemary and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the cream until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 59 calories, 1 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 18 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Tomato-Tarragon Pan Sauce

(4 servings)

1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine

4 canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon or scant 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the broth, vermouth or wine, tomatoes and tarragon and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 66 calories, 1 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 172 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Sweet Vermouth Pan Sauce With Prunes

(4 servings)

Soak the dried fruit in the vermouth while the chicken is sauteing.

6 tablespoons sweet vermouth or cream sherry

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/4 cup chopped pitted prunes

1 tablespoon butter

To the drippings in the skillet, add the vermouth or sherry, vinegar and prunes and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed chicken breast and serve immediately.

Per serving: 91 calories, trace protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 3 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Pam Anderson is the author of "The Perfect Recipe" (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), which won the 1999 Julia Child Cookbook of the Year award in the general reference category.

CAPTION: Balsamic Pan Sauce

CAPTION: Sweet Vermouth Pan Sauce With Prunes

CAPTION: Orange-Dijon Pan Sauce With Rosemary

CAPTION: Lemon-Caper Pan Sauce

CAPTION: Curried Chutney Pan Sauce

CAPTION: Mustard Cream Pan Sauce

CAPTION: Red Wine-Dijon Pan Sauce

CAPTION: Marsala Wine Pan Sauce

CAPTION: Port Wine Pan Sauce With Dried Cherries