I just ate a bite of this straight from the fridge, and it was so good I was prompted to come sit down and write down the recipe right this minute, so I can do it exactly the same way next time - and of course, share it with you. This has always been one of my favorite dishes to eat, but it took me a few tries to get the formula down for my ideal crust, and even longer to remember to measure everything out!
For some reason, I had a hard time figuring out the right amount of salt. It takes more than you would think, and it really makes a huge difference. I use both flour and crumbs to form a nice crisp coating that won't slide off the chicken, and I like to add just enough cayenne or chile powder to wake it up a little.
I made this batch the other night as a special treat for James, who just ran his first half marathon on Sunday! We ate it with a simple salad of arugula and tomato dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. It's a little bit of a project, with the assembly line and the frying and all (another reason it's an every-once-in-a-while thing!) But it's pretty well worth it - especially if you make enough for leftovers. Which, by the way - did I mention? - are fantastic cold. :)
Parmesan Crusted Chicken
3-4 pounds of boneless and skinless chicken pieces (I used 2 thighs, 4 breasts + 4 tenderloins)
2 cups fine breadcrumbs
2/3 cup flour
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt or kosher salt
1 cup (loosely packed) finely shredded fresh parmesan cheese
1 tsp cayenne or hot chile powder
a few grinds of pepper
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
a splash of milk
2 cups vegetable oil for frying*
cut lemon for squeezing and more salt for sprinkling
Place dry ingredients in a medium-sized shallow bowl and toss with a fork to blend.
Crack eggs into a large bowl and add mustard and a splash of milk - blend with a whisk or hand blender to thoroughly incorporate the mustard.
Set up a work area with a plastic cutting board, a 2 foot long piece of saran wrap and whatever you use to pound meat. If you don't have a special tool, a flat bottomed heavy glass or small saucepan will work. (I use this and I absolutely love it, it's also great for cracking spices and smashing garlic cloves, etc.) Cut your breast meat into halves off center, since they are thicker on one end. Lay each piece in the middle of the saran wrap and fold the wrap over with a generous overlap (one piece should last you the whole batch.) Lightly pound each cutlet from the center outward just a couple of times in each direction - until each piece is uniformly just a little less than 1/2 inch thick. (Be gentle with the tenderloins, they will probably just need one very light tap.) As you finish pounding the cutlets, put them in the bowl with the egg/mustard mixture to marinate. They can stay there for an hour or so at room temperature and even longer in the fridge.
When you are ready to fry, pour vegetable oil to about half an inch deep in a large heavy frying pan or cast iron skillet. Heat frying pan over medium-high heat and line a baking sheet or large platter with a double layer of paper towels. If you plan to hold the cutlets before serving, turn the oven on to 250 degrees.
Set up your work station like an assembly line - with the bowl of cutlets and egg on one end, the crumb mixture next, then they frying pan, and the paper towel lined tray on the opposite side. Place your cut lemon and a little dish of salt by the tray.
To fry, pluck your first piece of chicken out of the egg mixture with one hand and lay it in the crumb mixture. Using the OTHER hand, toss crumbs and flour over the chicken to coat, and flip and pat it couple of times to get the coating to stick. (If you use the same hand for both, your fingers will soon have more coating on them than the cutlets.) Lift the first cutlet by one end and dip a tiny corner into the oil. If it sizzles, lay it down gently in the oil. If it doesn't - put it back in the flour and wait a couple more minutes until it does. Dip and coat two or three more pieces, as many as will comfortably fit, and set them gently in the oil too, making sure it sizzles but isn't burning or smoking. Let the pieces get nice and brown around the edges before flipping - they should cook quite a bit longer on the first side than the second. Using tongs, gently flip them once. When they are well browned on all sides, lay them on the paper towels to drain. Squirt with a little lemon juice and sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt.
Turn the oven down to 200, and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
Serves about six - or fewer, with leftovers. :)
* optimally, if you are going to fry more than 3 batches, you should really change your oil - it will get lots of burnt bits in it and start to taste funny after that. I pushed it and did four, but that was definitely the limit.