Chicken Cutlets, Homemade Breadcrumbs, and the Importance of Good Pollo
I made my first chicken cutlet when I was 12 years old and it was a complete disaster. From what I remember, I over seasoned the breadcrumbs, placed the breaded cutlets in below temperature oil, had very little of that magical “golden brown” color, and undercooked the chicken. Fast forward about 20 years and I now consider myself a “master fryer” having perfected pan fried zucchini flowers, sardines, arancini, and countless chicken cutlets.
The best chicken cutlets start with the best meat you can buy, so if you can find fresh chicken from a local farmer you’ve hit the jackpot. If you’re dependent on local markets (like most of us), look for chicken that is raised with organic feed, allowed to roam during parts of it’s day-to-day existence, and is produced as close as possible to your home (i.e., local chicken). Like any other meat, when you use mass produced chicken you get a terrible end product (regardless of technique).
Beyond getting a hold of good chicken (don’t buy “chicken cutlets”; rather by a whole chicken and butcher it yourself <or have the butcher do it> or buy chicken breast on the bone <this will give you control over thickness >), you’ll also want to either make your own breadcrumbs (use old bread and your Cuisinart) or buy unseasoned breadcrumbs from a local market. Like buying bottled salad dressing, purchasing seasoned breadcrumbs is a food sin. I season my breadcrumbs with dried oregano, kosher salt, freshly grounded pepper, and lots of finely diced parsley.
- 1-2 pounds of chicken breast (sliced into ½ inch thick pieces)
- 1 egg (beaten)
- 2-3 cups of homemade breadcrumbs (seasoned)
- 1 cup of canola oil (for frying)
- 1 lemon (cut into 4-8 wedges)
- I use a single egg (beaten well with salt and pepper) to coat my chicken breasts; you can use more egg if you're preparing a large batch (but I'm interested in chicken flavor when making cutlets and not egg, for example). I place the chicken cutlets that have been coated with the egg wash in a flat plate containing seasoned breadcrumbs and gently get a good amount of breadcrumb on each side of the meat (making sure to shake off any excess breadcrumb).
- I generally use a large fry pan and aim not to crowd the pan during the frying process. I also use canola oil (not olive oil which is a royal waste of money and not the right oil for pan or deep frying) to fry and test the temperature by dropping some breadcrumb into the hot oil (if you see the breadcrumb begin to bubble and cook immediately your oil is read; you can of course test the temperature of the oil; it should be in 350 - 375 degree Celsius range). Note, I don't deep fry my chicken cutlets, rather I pan fry them with no more than about ½ inch of oil in a pan.
- Depending on the thickness of your chicken you can fry the cutlets between 1.5 - 2 minutes on each side (I generally cut my chicken breasts to a little less than ½ inch thickness). Look for a deep brown color before removing your chicken from the pan and if you're unsure whether your cutlets are cooked or not simply test one by cutting open a piece (down the center); after making a few pieces you'll become an expert.
- You can place the chicken on recycled brown shopping bags or a few paper towels (don't stack the cutlets on top of each other) Also, don't forgot to salt the chicken cutlets right after they come out of the pan.
I usually make a tomato salad or an arugula salad with a mustard vinaigrette to accompany the cutlets and serve wedges of lemon to be squeezed on the crusty chicken.
Finally a note on the chicken cutler from the site Pasta and Other Things:
The use of the cutlet is quite widespread in Italian cuisine in many different variations. The most famous variant is the Milanese cutlet which is a veal cutlet covered in bread crumbs and fried in butter. Through the years, the Milanese style of cooking cutlets has been adapted to most meats and poultry with all of its variations. Served with tomato sauces, white sauces or simply with the juice of a lemon. I make a simple lemon and butter sauce for this recipe.