Do you ever find yourself preparing a recipe your mother or grandmother used to make, wondering (but never questioning) why she did this or that? This chicken dish is one such recipe.
I always wondered why my grandmother:
- Pounded the daylights out of the chicken breast
- Dried each piece
- Always used flour, egg and breadcrumbs (in that order) for the coating
- Shouted “Basta! Basta!” if I put too much flour on the meat
- Added water to the egg
- Religiously, took a few minutes to enjoy a coffee before frying the cutlets
- Used her largest skillet but only fried two cutlets at a time
I never questioned her methods because on so many other occasions when I asked her about such things, her answer was always the same, “Because, that’s how I do it!”
When my son, Joe, asked me how to make this recipe, I felt he deserved a better answer:
- Pounding a chicken breast to a uniform thickness of approximately 1/2-inch, enables it to cook evenly. If you pound it any thinner, you run the risk of overcooking the chicken before it has a chance to brown. Conversely, if the cutlet is too thick, the outside will brown before the inside is thoroughly cooked.
- You might think that the chicken needs to be moist to have the breading stick, but just the opposite is true. The slightest bit of moisture will cause the breading to “peel” off as soon as it hits the pan. Blot each piece dry.
- The holy trinity of great breading is flour, egg and crumbs (yes, in that order). Dredging the chicken in flour absorbs any remaining moisture from the meat. Shaking off the excess will ensure the egg will stick. Too much flour is more of a hindrance than a help, acting as a barrier of sorts. This explains my grandmother’s expression; Basta! Basta! (Enough! Enough!)
- Eggs beaten with water form a thinner layer which adheres better and the crumbs add the perfect texture. My grandmother always made her own bread crumbs as do I … and so should you.
- I used to believe that the reason my grandmother took a few minutes for she and I to indulge in a coffee and a cookie was so we could share a special moment together. I have since learned, that by letting the cutlets rest for a bit, the ingredients get to know one another and solidify their relationship to form a strong bond, sticking together … literally. As far as Joe is concerned, the few minutes before we fry the cutlets is the perfect time for un cafe e biscotto (it’s a mother and son thing!)
- As for the pan size, you never want to crowd a pan when frying because the moisture released from the food lowers the temperature of the oil and causes uneven browning. When you are cooking more than two chicken breasts, frying the cutlets in batches will ensure that you end up with perfectly golden-brown cutlets every time.
- 2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 egg (beaten with 1 teaspoon water)
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon
- Italian parsley
- Using either a large zip-lock plastic freezer bag or between two sheets of parchment, pound the chicken to approximately 1/2-inch thickness. Pat dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper.
- Set up your breading ingredients in the order you’ll use them; one dish for the flour, next dish for the egg and last dish for the breadcrumbs mixed with the Parmesan. This is the way my grandmother always made her chicken cutlets, if you’d rather not use the Parmesan (or you have none) replace it with breadcrumbs instead.
- Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess, dip in egg mixture, coat with crumbs on both sides.
- Let the breaded cutlets rest … you do the same (enjoy your coffee and biscotto).
- In a skillet, warm the olive oil. My grandmother knew intuitively by the sizzle of the oil when to add the chicken. You will notice the oil shimmering when it’s the right temperature (approximately 365*). Add the cutlets, fry until golden brown, carefully flip over and cook the other side.
- Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and chopped parsley.
- You may also enjoy Roasted Mashed Cauliflower and le Verdure with your pan-fried chicken cutlets.