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.
They look delicious, Vin, nice post. Chicken cutlets were one of the first dishes I ever learned to cook on my own after I left home. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn to do it right as a teenager, but better late than never.
I only buy free roaming chickens (“free range” is an abused term, as most farmers need some sort of fencing to keep their chickens from wandering off or being eaten by foxes and other predators) from local farms these days, raised naturally and whenever possible organically.
I don’t make chicken cutlets often as it’s so easy to stuff the whole chicken with lemon and thyme, truss it, coat it with salt, and pop it into the oven over root vegetables and have a delicious roasted chicken in an hour. But your post is giving me a craving for cutlets again.
Are you just using the breasts of your whole chicken for the cutlets? If so, what do you with the wings, legs, and thighs? Can’t let good chicken go to waste! Thanks again.
Good frying does, indeed, come with practice (even with the right temp and process one needs to get it wrong a few times before becoming good at it).
You’re right that it’s much easier to simply roast a whole chicken and to tell you the truth we don’t make cutlets very often. When we do (and use a whole chicken) I end up usually stewing or braising the remaining parts in a bit of tomato sauce, white wine, onion, and lots of garlic. The liquid left over from the braise also makes a great sauce for pasta.
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Vincent, you and I make Chicken Cutlets the same way!! When we have family and friends over for dinner, they always ask me ahead of time, to make this dish..It is easy to make and SO delicious!! Love your website and recipes and stories!!
Thank you Marilyn, glad we’re connected by our chicken cutlet recipe!
Unfortunately, I can’t afford to buy fresh chicken breasts. When they go on sale, I buy the frozen boneless chicken breasts in the 3 pound bags. I defrost them and then pound them into the desired thickness. They come out good for me.