I share with you a go-to recipe that’s so simple and versatile that it actually dropped out of my weeknight rotation, because (a) it’s “just chicken,” and (b) there are so many other chicken dishes to try. I came up with it back when balsamic vinegar was an “it” ingredient. Chefs and food magazines did such a deep dive, making smooth brown vinaigrettes, using it in marinades, reducing it as a glaze and drizzling the expensive, aged kind over cheese that it makes the recent kale-o-rama seem mild in comparison.

Even with the inevitable backlash, balsamic vinegar has remained front and center on store shelves, where you can spend $8 or $28 for a bottle of it, depending on its age and provenance. For this recipe, go with what you have on hand, in the Dinner in Minutes Pantry, because it is just one part of the quick sauce.

First, you cook the tomato paste for a bit, which deepens its flavor in the same way that toasting spices in a dry skillet does. Browning it, or caramelizing it as some cooks refer to the process, doesn’t take long, and it has become a habit for me ever since I watched chef-restaurateur Lidia Bastianich plop a dollop in the middle of a saute pan, on one of her cooking shows.

When you stir in the balsamic vinegar and broth, it may take a minute or so to fully incorporate those caramelized globs of tomato goodness. Be patient! The sauce will happen, while you are breaking down the poached chicken breasts. Speaking of poaching, if you ever have tried and failed to get the chicken cooked through this way, the technique here will serve you well.

Once the chicken’s done, you can enjoy it several ways: over zucchini noodles, between toasted halves of garlicky bread, mixed into pasta shells. A sprinkling of fresh oregano at the end is terrific, if you happen to have some in your herb garden. In truth, this recipe really shines when you use fresh tarragon, so keep that in mind for the next time you make this chicken.


  • Two 6- to 8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (no tenderloins)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 14 cup tomato paste
  • 12 cup chicken broth, preferably no-salt-added, or more as needed
  • 12 cup balsamic vinegar, or more as needed
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Leaves from 4 stems thyme (see OVERVIEW)
  • 12 teaspoon dried oregano

Step 1

If the chicken breast halves are of uneven thickness, you may want to either pound them between pieces of plastic wrap, or even easier, use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts in the thicker parts of the meat.

Step 2

Place the chicken in a medium saucepan and cover with cool water by at least 2 inches. Bring to barely a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 12 minutes. Drain in a colander, discarding the cooking liquid. The chicken should be just cooked through (you can cut it in half to check).

Step 3

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the tomato paste; cook for 5 minutes, stirring to avoid scorching. The tomato paste should darken a bit and become fragrant. Reduce the heat to low; pour in the broth and balsamic vinegar, stirring until no lumps of tomato paste remain.

Step 4

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board; use two forks to shred or pull the chicken, placing the pieces in the skillet as you work. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Step 5

Add the leaves from the thyme and the dried oregano, stirring to distribute them evenly and coat the chicken. Taste, and add more balsamic vinegar or broth, as needed. The chicken should be a little saucy — It’s a clingy sauce, rather than a thin one.

Step 6

Serve warm.

From deputy Food editor/recipes editor by Bonnie S. Benwick; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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The nutritional analysis is based on 2 servings.


Calories: 320; Total Fat: 11 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 125 mg; Sodium: 270 mg; Carbohydrates: 15 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 41 g.