Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sesame Chicken Cutlets

Of all the meals I make on a fairly regular basis, this is the one that produces the most smiles and exclamations of - "Yay!!" There's lots of ways to flavor breaded chicken cutlets - you can make them plain {simply seasoned with salt and pepper}, with fresh herbs {rosemary and/or thyme work very well}, or studded with flecks of freshly grated Parmesan {as I did here}...a little Dijon mustard mixed in with the egg mixture adds a great tang. Really, I could go on and on. 
Yet - with all the experimenting I've done in the past, I keep coming back to my old standby of sesame seeds. The first time I had these {or a version thereof} was when my husband made some for me many years ago. He learned the technique from his mother - who I mentioned in the Parmesan cutlet post, is the master of making the best chicken cutlets ever.
To this day I still don't know exactly how she makes hers. But one thing I have learned is that getting the chicken as thin as possible is really the key. Even if you think the chicken is as thin as it needs to be when raw, go thinner - because as the chicken cooks it will constrict and thicken up quite a bit.
One way to prepare the chicken is to filet it with a sharp knife, running parallel to your cutting board. This is how my mother-in-law does it, but the technique requires some pretty impressive knife skills in order to get the cutlets to be an even thickness. What I do, if either buy prepared chicken cutlets from the grocery store and pound them a bit thinner, or I butterfly the chicken breast and then pound to an even thickness. The first method is the easiest and fastest, but buying chicken cutlets is also more expensive.
The dredging process is flour, egg, then a sesame seed/breadcrumb mixture. One thing I've also learned through experience is that I like to leave the flour unseasoned. I find any salt added before cooking will just cook away and make the chicken lose moisture. Therefore, I like to season the cutlets as they come out of the frying pan, while they're still piping hot.
For the breadcrumb mixture, I use a combination of regular store-bought breadcrumbs {I love Jason brand} and panko. The fine crumbs stick better than panko, but the panko adds a great crunch - so together they work very well. Both black and white sesame seeds are mixed into the breadcrumbs. I love the multi-colored seeds sprinkled over the surface of the cutlets, but you certainly don't need to make a special trip to the store for both! Use whichever you have on hand.
As simple as chicken cutlets are to make...not to mention how much better they taste than store-bought frozen chicken fingers, nuggets, tenders, etc...there's only one thing I don't like about making them. And that would be, the mess!
But a valuable lesson my experience with catering has taught me is - making them ahead of time is just as delicious as eating them right away. You can bread them hours before frying them and stack them in an airtight container. Or, you can pre-cook them, keep them chilled in the fridge or frozen - then re-heat in a 400 degree oven until hot. Since you're going through the trouble, make a bunch!
Some other chicken recipes you might like...Parmesan Chicken Cutlets, Grilled Chicken with Honeydew Salsa or Chicken Valdostana.

Breaded Sesame Chicken Cutlets

Serves 4-6
{printable version}
The nutty sesame flavor in these chicken cutlets sets them apart from other variations. I like to use both black and white sesame seeds - mainly for aesthetic purposes. Black sesame seeds are the un-hulled version of the more commonly seen white {hulled} sesame seeds. They are not as easily available and because the difference in taste between the two is nearly indistinguishable, don't put yourself out hunting some down if you don't have them readily available.

1 1/2 pounds chicken cutlets {or bonless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded very thin}
3 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 cup flour
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
vegetable oil, for frying
coarse sea salt {I prefer Maldon sea salt flakes}

To prepare the chicken - If you're using prepared chicken cutlets, give them a quick pounding between two layers of plastic wrap - just until they're an even thickness throughout. Alternatively, you can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. To do so, butterfly the breasts in half by running a sharp knife, parallel to your cutting board, as evenly down the center as possible, leaving one edge still attached. Open the chicken breast, lay it flat like a book, and pound between two layers of plastic wrap until very thin. Here's a good visual tutorial if you need some assistance. You can leave the butterflied breast in one whole piece and have large chicken cutlets, or slice it in half completely for smaller portions.

For the breading - Assemble three dredging stations by adding the flour to one pie plate, dinner plate, or any deep container you have handy. Beat the eggs with the water and add the mixture to a second plate. In the third, combine the two breadcrumbs and sesame seeds. Toss a bit to combine.

Dredging - One by one, dip each cutlet in the flour, covering the surface completely. Tap off any excess, then dip into the egg mixture. Coat both sides, let any excess drip off, then dredge in the breadcrumb/sesame seed mixture. Press down slightly as you coat both sides to help the breadcrumbs adhere. As you finish dredging each piece of chicken, stack them up on a plate until you're ready to start cooking. {They won't stick together as long as they're completely coated with breadcrumbs - so don't miss any spots!}

Frying the cutlets - Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and add enough oil so that the entire bottom of the pan is covered, 2 tablespoons or so should suffice. When the oil is shiny, drop a breadcrumb into it. If it bubbles and sizzles, your oil is ready. If the oil is smoking, or appears too hot, reduce the heat and wait until it's reached the proper temperature.
Place as many pieces of chicken into the pan as will comfortably fit. Cook for about 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through.
Once fully browned, remove the cutlets from the oil and lay them on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Immediately sprinkle each side of the cutlets lightly with sea salt and serve. To keep the entire batch warm while cooking, you can keep the finished pieces in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve.
To make ahead - Let the cooked chicken cool to room temperature, then refrigerate between layers of wax paper, in an airtight container. The cutlets will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge, or at least a month in the freezer. Re-heat in a 400 degree oven.

Some Notes
* Depending on your pan/burners, it may help to shift the chicken around as they cook so that each piece sits in the hottest section of the pan and the coolest. This will help you achieve even browning.
* It will be necessary to add more oil to the pan between batches. If the pan looks dry, add in another tablespoon or so, and wait for the oil to come up to temperature again before proceeding. If you find yourself with a bunch of burnt bits of breading all over the pan, simply wipe the pan clean with paper towels and start fresh. Adjusting the heat as you cook will be necessary to keep the pan hot, but not too hot!


Ruth said...

Wow, they look amazingly crisp! You can't beat panko for a great crumb! Must try it!

Laurie {Simply Scratch} said...

These are perfection! I can literally taste the crispiness!

Joanne said...

Chicken cutlets have and will always and forever be my mother's go-to dish. I would have appreciated much more if htey had had sesame in the breading!

SkinnyMommy said...

I love the Asian flair here!

Amy said...

Just made these for the second time. So good! And great over some arugula. Thanks for the terrific recipe.

Unknown said...

Very healthy and easy recipe thanks.
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Anonymous said...

Could these be cooked in the oven?

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