Build Your Best...Breaded Chicken Cutlets (aka Schnitzel)
During one of my pregnancies, I was sitting in front of a plate of bone-in chicken when suddenly I had a very pro-life thought regarding the chicken, and I went vegetarian on the spot. Today I eat
a mostly pescatarian diet, but when I do eat chicken, it’s usually cutlets — they’re clean and neat, and I can pretend they grew in my backyard. Well, almost.
Seriously, though, cutlets are a very versatile and easy-to-make protein. But they can be dry, tough, or tasteless if you don’t know how to prepare them properly.
Read these tips, and prepare to up your cutlet game. And if you’re ever in Atlanta, stop by to see what’s growing in the Berkowitz garden (hint: it doesn’t squawk).
TENDERS, AKA CHEF’S SNACK
Cutlets are typically packaged with the tender attached — a strip of chicken roughly three inches long attached to the cutlet. Sometimes referred to as “chef’s snack,” these tenders are best removed
before you cook your cutlets for even baking and smooth edges. You can toss the tenders into a ziplock bag and use them another night to make chicken fingers or skewered chicken strips.
POUND TO PERFECTION
One of the biggest rookie mistakes with chicken is not pounding the cutlets. If you try to bake or fry a cutlet without pounding, the edges will burn and the center will be raw. Use a meat mallet or hammer to gently pound the center of the cutlet until it’s an even thickness all around.
(Or have your butcher do it, and take out your frustrations elsewhere.)
IT'S IN THE SEASONING
Bread crumbs can really soak up flavor, so go generous when you spice up those crumbs. It’s a good idea to taste them before you start to get an idea if you need more flavor, or if you need to add some more plain crumbs to cut an overzealous shake of pepper. No need to salt the cutlets before dipping, but you can certainly sprinkle them with some onion and garlic powder and a dash of black pepper before dipping. Adding flavor at every step ensures a seriously flavorful final product.
WE DIP AGAIN
We’re all about dips in this tribe, so go ahead and prepare a couple for those who love to practice for the Seder all year round. Match the flavor and ingredients of your coating to the dip — a thick ranch dressing goes well with a basic schnitzel recipe, but you can also serve them with salsa, Turkish salad, black bean chummus, or thick techinah. For a sweet dip, mix equal parts apricot preserves and ketchup, with a few red pepper flakes to add a bit of heat.
For a really thick coating, dip your cutlet in the bread crumbs first, then in the egg or liquid mixture, and then back into the
crumbs. And while you’re at it, try an easy and delicious liquid coating: a ratio of three beaten eggs to two to three tablespoons
ground mustard (not the bright yellow kind — look for a brown, grainy version). Another way to add flavor to your chicken is
to add a dash of hot sauce or flavored vinegar to your egg to thin it out a bit.
BAKE VS. FRY
Since this is my column, I’m going to say it like it is — there’s no reason to fry chicken cutlets. So much work, so much oil, so much mess. Baking cutlets for about 17 minutes in the oven yields a perfect bite that has just the right amount of moisture. But if you absolutely insist on frying, remember these tips: Don’t overcrowd the pan, and consider using infused oil (garlic or herbs) for a more flavorful end result. And be sure to cut open one from each batch of your fried cutlets to make sure they’re fully cooked inside.
My favorite bread crumbs are made from challah heels and leftover slices that I store in the freezer until we get to the preavalanche stage, when I toss them all in a food processor and then into a ziplock bag. Panko is a Japanese-style bread crumb that will give you a nice crispy coating. But you can use almost any salty or seasoned snack to make funky chicken coatings — including cereal (stay away from ones that are colored or overly sweet), pretzels, crackers, potato chips, falafel mix, or nuts. Simply process them until they’re the size of bread crumbs, and dip away. If you like a thin coating, use a mixture of flour and cornstarch or potato starch to help it stick.
Falafel-Crusted Chicken Cutlets
- 8 chicken tenders
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 6-oz (170-g) pkg falafel mix
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
Coat the chicken tenders with oil, and then sprinkle falafel mix over them and toss to coat. Lay tenders on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 14 minutes, or until center is no longer pink. Serve with whole wheat pitas, Israeli salad, and techinah.
Breaded Chicken Cutlets
- 6 chicken cutlets pounded, tenders removed
- 2 cups homemade bread crumbs
- 1 Tbsp dried dill
- 1 Tbsp dried parsley
- ½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 4 eggs
- 3 Tbsp whole grain mustard
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Mix bread crumbs with seasoning in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and mustard. Dip cutlets into crumbs, then in egg/mustard mixture, and then into crumbs again. Lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 17 minutes. Slice into a cutlet to make sure the inside is white, with no remaining pink. Transfer baked cutlets to a cooling rack to avoid excess moisture and soggy bottoms. When fully cooled, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.
(Originally featured in FamilyTable, Issue 641)
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