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Go beyond breadcrumbs, A template to preparing chicken cutlets
February 24, 2018, 3:59 pm

Fried chicken cutlets are a surprisingly fast and easy weeknight dinner. The basic technique involves dipping a pounded-thin piece of meat in flour and eggs, followed by a crunchy coating and frying. The result spans seasons and cultures, and appeals to diners of all ages. The best part about this method, however, is how adaptable it is to a wide range of flavors and textures. You do not have to stick with just breadcrumbs as the coating — ground nuts, seeds, crushed snack foods or cereal, cornmeal, and more can be used to create your own personal favorite crispy chicken cutlet. Even better, you do not need a specific recipe to make it work.

Any kind of thinly pounded meat or chicken can be cooked in this manner, but in this template we are using boneless skinless chicken breast. Once you master the technique, try it with boneless skinless chicken thighs, or even steak. No matter what kind of meat or poultry you use, it is a satisfying dinner that you can get on the table in about half an hour. Here is how to prepare chicken cutlets:

Pound that chicken: You can start with either a whole boneless skinless chicken breast or you can cut it in half for smaller servings. You can also buy thinly sliced chicken breasts which will need even less pounding. Whichever you start with, place it between two layers of plastic wrap or inside a large resealable plastic bag and gently but firmly pound it with a meat mallet until it is about 1cm thick, or a bit thinner even. You can opt for a freezer bag because the sturdier plastic does not break under the pressure of pounding. You can also skip this step entirely by buying thinly pounded chicken breasts from your butcher.

Pick your crust: This is where you get to choose your own adventure. What do you want the crust on your chicken to taste like? You can keep it simple with breadcrumbs or panko straight out of the box, or grind up something else in the food processor to use instead. Ground nuts such as pecans, pistachios, almonds, or hazelnuts all work, as do sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds. Look for options in your snack drawer too: you can grind up chips, crackers, or pretzels for a crunchy chicken crust. Unsweetened cereals such as corn flakes work too, as will cornmeal.

Whatever you choose for your crust, grind up or pour out a bit more than you think you will need to coat all your pounded chicken. Put it in a wide shallow bowl and then make it taste good: add some salt and any spices, herbs, or citrus zest you think will complement your crust. Jazz up plain breadcrumbs with lots of finely chopped fresh parsley and thyme. Add a pinch of cumin and a little bit of orange zest to ground pistachios. Toss those crushed pretzels with smoked paprika. This bowl is where all the flavor for your chicken is going to come from, so add salt and spices according to your taste.

Dredge and dip: Fill a second wide shallow bowl with some all-purpose flour and then fill a third wide shallow bowl with a couple of beaten eggs. (You can always add more eggs and flour if you run out, so do not worry about how much you start with.)

Season your pounded chicken breasts with a bit of salt on both sides, and then start the three-bowl dunk: first, coat a piece of chicken in flour, and shake off any excess. Then dip it in the eggs until it is thoroughly coated. Then dredge it through your bowl of crust ingredients, pressing to make sure it fully adheres, and shake off any excess. Place breaded cutlet on a plate or sheet pan. Repeat until all your cutlets are coated and ready to fry.

Fry it up: You do not need to use a lot of oil to fry your chicken cutlets. You just need your pan to be generously coated in oil, and to have the bottle at the ready to add more between batches, or if the pan starts looking too dry. Canola or grapeseed oil works well, but any neutral, high-heat oil will be fine.

Heat oil in skillet (any size you have will work — but the larger the skillet the more chicken you can cook at once) over medium-high until the oil is shimmering. Working in batches and making sure not to crowd the pan, fry your breaded cutlets until golden brown on both sides, which should take about two to three minutes per side. Add a fresh swirl of oil and repeat until all your cutlets are cooked to a golden-brown crisp.

Transfer the cooked cutlets to a paper towel–lined plate or a baking sheet fitted with a cooling rack until ready to serve, or pop them in a low oven to keep them warm if desired. Enjoy the delicious crispy chicken cutlet feast.

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