I realize breaded chicken cutlets are terribly passe, but doggone it, they are scrumptious-deli-o-cious and conceptually simple. And if you have a picky eater in your family—such as mine who may well the pickiest in the Western hemisphere—breaded chicken cutlets are going to solve your problem. The kid will chow.
That said, chicken cutlets are kind of deceptive. Because, although the recipe’s simple and they cook up quickly, they do involve some prep time. And, once they hit the pan, you’ve got to tend them with care. Here’s what I’ve learned to get them perfect every time:
Recipe for Breaded Chicken Cutlets
Four skinless deboned chicken thighs. (Forget breast meat, thighs are moister and more flavorful. But thighs do tend to tend to fall apart more. So? They’re worth it.)
One (to two) eggs
Dash of half-and-half or milk
Cup or so of seasoned breadcrumbs
Peanut oil, plus some other vegetable oil that can handle heat
Large (ideally) non-stick skillet/sauté pan (makes clean-up a cinch)
Meat pounder/flattener. You can use anything to flatten the chicken—the side of a meat tenderizer hammer, a heavy pan. But if you end up making this dish more than once a year, do yourself a favor and buy a dedicated meat pounder. It will get the job done twice as fast and with less damage to the meat.
Wash chicken and set to dry on paper towels.
Create your pounding-board sandwich.
(POUNDING BOARD SANDWICH Cover the top of a large cutting board with plastic wrap making sure to tuck it under so it will stay put. Lay chicken out on the plastic. Be sure to leave extra space between each piece and edge of board. Cover the chicken with another layer of plastic wrap so it’s sandwiched between two layers. Voilá.)
– Pound. Start from the thickest part of each thigh and work your way out to the edge. Don’t make them too thin or they will begin to fall apart, plus the breading-to-meat ratio will be ridiculous. Try to make the thickness as even as possible. Trim off extra bits of meat and fry them along with the large pieces. (Right: what I used to do the trimming—one of my favorites for small jobs—a Shun 6-inch chef. For more tips, see my article on best chef knives.)
Set up your dredging/dipping stations—one for the egg and another for the breadcrumbs.
(NOTE: Many recipes use a layer of flour, but IMHO it’s not really worth the extra step—especially with thighs.)
Beat the egg (add a touch of half-and-half to make it go farther). I use the same stainless steel bowl I beat the egg in as my dipping bowl.
Pour the—yes, store-bought, sorry—seasoned bread crumbs out into a largish platter or flat-bottomed bowl. I use a metal quiche pan which is perfecto. And I don’t put all the bread crumbs I’m going to use in one batch, but split them up. That way, for the last piece of chicken, they won’t be overly soggy. (Below: pounded cutlets ready to be dipped and dredged.)
Dip each chicken thigh in egg (both sides) and let the extra drip off.
Then, dredge in breadcrumbs. Make sure everything is covered; lightly shake off excess.
Set each breaded thigh aside on a large plate/platter and bread the next. Don’t even dream of breading as you cook—you will have a meltdown.
Pour oil into pan until it’s about 1/8-inch or more deep and warm up at medium-high. Use plenty of oil because the breading will soak it up. (Yes, we’re skirting the edge of deep-fry land.) Let the pan temperature stabilize. If the oil starts smoking, you’re a tad too hot.
(WHY PEANUT OIL? It can stand the hottest temperatures, thus less chance of burning and less smoke. But because peanut oil is pricey, I often mix in some canola oil—roughly two parts peanut to one part canola.)
Fry the chicken cutlets about 3 to 4 minutes per side max. Pay attention to which are thicker or thinner and watch them. Ideally, put the thickest ones on first.
Don’t let the pan get too hot. By the time you flip, you may need to turn the burner down a touch.
If the pan gets dry, don’t be afraid to add a touch more oil. Just a teaspoon at a time.
Poke the meat. When a cutlet starts getting stiff and firm, it’s DONE.
Remove the chicken cutlets from the pan and set them briefly on a paper towel to draw off excess oil. Serve immediately. And then (fingers crossed), bathe in the satisfaction of watching your picky eater woof down their entrée like there’s no tomorrow!