Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Last Stand VS. Breaded Chicken

Good evening everyone! Once again, it was a balmy (100+ degree heat index) day here in the greater Des Moines area. I'm not going to complain about the heat, however, as the white stuff will be falling before we  know it. Instead, I'm using the heat as an excuse to stay inside and do some cooking! (Well, I was going to do that anyway...)

Tonight, I'm taking off the gloves. I'm throwing down ONE LAST TIME with a recipe that has been the bane of my cooking existence ever since I started out in the culinary world. Is it some fancy French dish? Nope. A particularly complicated Italian concoction? Nope. The bane of my cooking world has been one thing  - breaded chicken.

As comical as it may sound, breaded chicken has been the one recipe that has haunted me every time I turn to it in the kitchen. I have tried nearly every style of breading, panko bread crumbs, regular bread crumbs, crackers you name it, I've tried it. I've tried egg wash, no egg wash, flour, no flour. If it's a technique, I've tried it - and failed. Even my first foray into breading chicken on the blog didn't end well. In the end, I've always run into one of three problems. 1. Chicken with a perfect golden crust that is undercooked 2. Chicken that is perfectly cooked but the crust is scorched beyond belief 3. The crust falls off the chicken completely and you end with a slightly rubbery and crunch-less dish. 

Tonight I'm drawing the line in the sand. I've found yet another breaded chicken recipe (this time from the folks at America's Test Kitchen). Tonight two foes are going to enter, and one of us is going to come out tasty and delicious. I just hope it's the chicken.

The Recipe: Breaded Chicken Cutlets
Original Recipe Found In: The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

What You'll Need:

2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
2 Slices High Quality Bread (We use Pepperidge Farms light style bread)
3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Large Eggs
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil (Plus additional for cooking)
Lemon Wedge For Serving

Begin by placing your chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and flattening them with a meat pounder. Beat the living daylights out of each breast until it has been reduced to about 1/2 inch thickness. Obviously, you can make you life a lot easier by starting off with thinner cuts of chicken. The thinner the cut - the less time you have to spend beating the chicken to a pulp. Once flattened to the proper size, season each breast with salt and pepper and set aside.

This is my favorite part! 

Adjust your oven rack to the middle position and place an oven safe plate on said rack. Set the oven to 200 degrees. The idea here to create a 'hot plate' to store your finished cutlets on while you are cooking the others. I found out that this plate would be needed for more than just keeping things warm, however. More on that later...

Next, process your bread in a food processor until you have an evenly textured crumb mixture. This takes about 30 seconds of pulsing. Alternatively, you can use panko style bread crumbs. Panko bread crumbs are larger, Japanese style breading that delivers a very nice crunch. They can be found next to boxed bread crumbs in most grocery stores. While we do have panko bread crumbs - I prefer to make up my own. Transfer whatever form of crumbs you choose to a shallow plate or pie dish and set aside.

Bread crumbs just waiting to happen!

Spread your flour on a a second plate and set aside. Finally, mix your eggs with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and pour that mixture on a third plate. Place your plates in order so you can work like an assembly line. The plate with the flour is first, followed by the plate with the egg wash and finally the plate with the bread crumbs. At the end of the line, place a wire drying rack or some form of cooling rack (to keep the cutlets off the counter - don't use a plate, however).

Chicken breading assembly line

Using one cutlet at a time, cover it in flour and shake off all the excess. Next, using tongs turn each side of the cutlet into the egg mixture. Allow the excess to drip off before dunking the cutlet into the bread crumbs. Press the crumbs into the chicken with your fingers until you have formed an even coating. If you find yourself running low on crumbs, don't hesitate to throw another piece of bread into the processor. Place the finished breaded cutlet on your drying rack and leave undisturbed for five minutes.

This little rest allows the breading to dry and solidify, something that none of my previous attempts at this recipe had recommended before. I had been to this stage many times before - a decently breaded cutlet all ready to cook - but once it hit the pan, disaster ensued. While I was optimistic that this little extra step may remedy that problem, I had cooked up enough of these recipes to relax just yet.

While your cutlets are drying, heat up 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet. (Medium high heat). The original recipe calls for 6 tablespoons, but it also assumes you are cooking 4 cutlets. Knowing that 6 tablespoons is a lot of oil (and would make a lot of splatter) I opted to cut that amount in half for our uses.

Frying up the first cutlet

Get the oil to the point of shimmering, but not smoking (this should take roughly 2 minutes) and lay in 2 cutlets at a time. (Since I was using a 10.5 inch skillet rather than the 12 inch skillet that was called for  - I opted to cook the cutlets one at a time. They tend to cook better if the pan isn't overcrowded). Cook the cutlets until they are a deep golden brown and crispy. Be sure to press down on the cutlets with a spatula during cooking to make sure the entire surface is cooking evenly. After 3 minutes, flip the cutlet to the other side and repeat the process. Feel free to reduce the heat if you smell the breading start to burn. By watching the sides of the cutlets you should be able to tell what the overall browning looks like. When you see a nice golden color, flip the cutlet over.

I was pleasantly surprised here - the breading didn't fall off and browned very nicely. However, I did find that I had to turn my cutlets a lot faster than the 2 to 3 minutes the recipe called for. After about a minute the breading was golden brown and after 2 it started to burn. Other than that little incident, this was the smoothest cooking experience I've ever had with breaded chicken. Did I finally defeat the breaded chicken beast? Well....more on that later.

Place your finished cutlet on the warmed (actually HOT!) plate from the oven and return to the oven while cooking up the next cutlet. Proceed to cook up additional cutlets using the same directions as above until everything is cooked.

Now, the recipe doesn't indicate that you need to take the temperature of the chicken here, but I prefer to know that my chicken is done before finding out the hard way (I.E. biting into it, spitting it out and turning to the microwave). Stick a thermometer into the center of the breast and check for 165 to 170 degrees. Then you know that the cutlet is cooked to perfection.


And boy, am I glad I took the time to check the temperature. After only 2 minutes per side, the chicken was (predictably) undercooked. (I KNEW the breaded chicken had one trick left up its sleeve!) Our initial reading was only 110 degrees. To help things along, I upped our oven temperature to 300 and stuck the chicken cutlets in the oven for about 10 minutes. After this time, the temperature was finally 165 degrees. I don't know what the folks at America's Test Kitchen were thinking here. Cooking a cutlet for 2 to 3 minutes, no matter how thin, is simply not long enough. If you leave the cutlet in the oil any longer, the breading burns - any shorter and it's undercooked. At any rate, be sure to measure the temperature before serving up your chicken.

A little timeout in the oven should help

All that's left is to serve up the cutlet however you prefer and enjoy!

The Results:

Well, I can safely say that this was the best breading I've ever made on a chicken breast. Then again, my previous forays have resulted in - burnt, clumpy and non existent chicken breasts...so there wasn't much competition.

The end result was a nice, crispy crust with a very juicy breast. All in all, exactly what you want out of breaded chicken. Since the cutlets were so large, we served them in two ways. First, we sliced the cutlet in half and placed one half on a fresh bun to make a tasty chicken sandwich. We topped this with some freshly squeezed lemon juice. The other half we sliced into thin strips and covered with some homemade BBQ sauce (leftovers from the BBQ chicken recipe on Thursday). Both serving styles resulting in delicious dishes.

With the exception of extra cooking time - I did not run into any major issues with this recipe. I am elated at having (finally) successfully defeated breaded chicken! Now that I have a basis for a breaded chicken recipe that works, I can start to get creative with my own recipes. I have some ideas in mind that I will be sure to roll out in the coming weeks.

That's all we have for you tonight. Thank you, as always, for stopping by and seeing what we've got cooking. Maggie takes the kitchen tomorrow night with a chicken recipe of her own, but rest assured it's nothing like what I made tonight. Stop back tomorrow evening around the same time to see just what she's got cooking. Until then,


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