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Chicken Cutlets - Comfort Food from My Mother's Kitchen

This recipe is from my mother, Selma. It is easy to prepare and you can use any type of breading you prefer, with or without herbs. The cutlets cook quickly and taste delicious. (My twenty-something kids always request it when they come home and want comfort food. I thought of doing this blog entry because Eleanor is coming home for spring break at the end of this week, and I bet this will be one of the first dishes she'll request for dinner.) You can make endless variations and claim it as your own, with side dishes that suit your mood, your pocketbook, and the ingredients you have handy. What could be better?

chicken, chicken cutlet, cooking, easy recipe

Chicken cutlet for dinner - makes me happy just to look at it.

The best advice on making this dish is the same I would give for tackling any recipe – read carefully and prepare. Familiarize yourself with how the recipe proceeds, figure out what ingredients and equipment you need, and set them out before you start. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe only to discover that you are missing a crucial ingredient.

On the preparation time issue – this recipe takes me under 45 minutes from opening the package of chicken breasts to putting it on the table. I do not give preparation times in my recipes because timing is so variable. This isn’t a race, and if it were, I’d typically be at the back of the pack. But the proof is in the eating, not the stop watch results.  To figure out how long this recipe (or any other) will take you, under the conditions in your kitchen, takes experience. I have found ballpark estimates using broad categories to be all that helps me. Here is the basic guide I use: super quick (less than 15 minutes), quick (less than 30 minutes), not bad (30 minutes to an hour), long (1-2 hours), and “only for a rainy weekend or when I’m procrastinating” (several hours).  Usually set up - pulling together all the ingredients and equipment – takes me a fair proportion of the total time. I try to figure out if there are time-consuming steps, like chopping a lot of vegetables, and include a “cushion” of extra time.

This recipe does not have any time-consuming steps like chopping, but the preparation is a bit messy. So I figure that once I’ve organized to make it, I ought to take advantage of that effort and make extra.  Either I freeze the remaining cutlets (cooked or uncooked) or refrigerate them for 2-3 days wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container. Cooked cutlets (defrosted if necessary) taste great re-heated in a toaster oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, either as a dinner or in a sandwich.

Selma’s Chicken Cutlets – 2 servings (easily doubled for leftovers or if you are feeding more people)

Ingredients – All measurements are approximate and you may need more if your cutlets are particularly large. It is better to start with the amount of called for and to add more if necessary.

  • 2 chicken cutlets. If you prefer smaller pieces you can use “breast tenders”, which are thin strips of breast (white) meat.
  • ½ cup flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk or water
  • ¾ cup bread crumbs – I like seasoned Italian, but you can use unseasoned, Japanese Panko-style, or even matzo meal. The crunchier the bread crumbs, the crunchier the coating.)  If you like a particular herb, such as oregano or basil, you can add it to bread crumbs.
  • 2 tablespoons of oil  - for frying cutlets. I prefer olive, but canola, corn or other oil works too
  • ½ lemon – to squeeze over cutlets after cooking and garnish (adding a wedge of lemon on the side) if you like to be fancy

Equipment

  • 2 plates (1 for flour, other for breadcrumbs)
  • 1 pie plate or other bowl (for egg/milk or water mixture)
  • spoon for pouring flour and bread crumbs over the cutlets
  • fork for moving uncooked cutlets through the steps of the recipe
  • pan with cover
  • serving plate (unless you are putting the cooked cutlets right on dinner plates)
  • tongs, pancake turner or another fork for lifting cutlets out of pan

Preparation

  • Pour flour on one plate. Add a few pinches of salt and a bit of fresh pepper to the flour.
ingredients for chicken cutlets.jpg
  • Beat egg in pie plate or bowl and add milk or water
  • Pour breadcrumbs on second plate
  • Open package of chicken cutlets.
  • If you like thin cutlets and if yours are rather thick, you can put each cutlet between two pieces of waxed paper and pound them, not too hard, with a mallet or other clean, hard object. This step does make the meat a bit more tender, but it is not essential and I often skip it.
  • Put cutlet in flour. Spoon flour on top and around until the entire cutlet is lightly covered.                                                             
flouring chicken cutlets.jpg
  • Dust any excess flour off so that it falls back onto the plate. The coating should be complete, but light.
  • With the fork, move the cutlet into the egg mixture and let it soak for 2 or 3 minutes. Turn the cutlet over and make sure the sides get egg on them too. Take the cutlet out of the egg mixture, letting the excess egg drip back into the pie plate/bowl.  
dipping chicken cutlets in egg.jpg

Let the cutlets soak in the egg mixture for a little while.

  • Move the cutlet to the plate with the bread crumbs. Cover the cutlet on all sides with the bread crumbs. 
breaded cutlet - ready to cook.jpg

The breaded cutlet is ready to fry/sautee.

  • Repeat with the second cutlet.
  • Put 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan. Heat the oil under medium heat until a few bread crumbs sizzle when they are dropped in the pan.
  • Cook the cutlets approximately 7 minutes on the first side, making sure that the bottom of the cutlet does not burn.
cutlet cooking on 1st side.jpg

 The cutlet cooking on the first side.

  • Turn the cutlets over, partially cover the pan and cook them another 7 minutes. To check for doneness, cut into the middle of a cutlet with a sharp knife and make sure the inside is white, not pink. A cutlet is fully cooked when it is uniform light white color (not pink) in the center.  
cutlet cooking on 2nd side.jpg

The cutlet is almost ready. If you like chicken parmesan, now is the time to add a slice of mozzarella cheese on top.

  • Take the cooked cutlets out of the pan with tongs, a pancake turner, or a clean fork
  • Cut the lemon in half and squeeze a bit of lemon juice on each cooked cutlet.

I like to eat the cutlets with pasta or potatoes and a salad.  If you like chicken parmesan, eliminate the lemon and melt a slice of mozzarella cheese on top of  the cutlets after one side has been cooked and you turn them to cook on the second side. Be sure to partially cover the pan after you put the mozzarella on top, so that it melts. Heat pasta sauce in separate pot and when the cutlets are done, spoon some heated sauce over them.

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