I loved chicken cutlets when I was a kid. My mom made them in the classic Italian way; pounded chicken breasts dredged (coated) in flour, egg and bread crumbs and lightly fried in oil. They were seasoned simply, with salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. And they were perfectly cooked: crunchy around the edges and moist and tender in the center.
It irked me to no end that my kids did not feel the same way about chicken cutlets. When they were little, they would leave most of their cut-up cutlet untouched on their plates. I figured they would see the light when they got older, but they did not. Every chicken cutlet dinner was met with the same lack of enthusiasm. I took it personally.
And, I was more than a little skeptical when, a few months back, my daughter, Adriana, pointed out (with a great deal of enthusiasm, I might add) a recipe for pretzel-crusted chicken breasts in the February/March issue of Fine Cooking magazine.
“You won’t like them,” I said after I scanned the recipe. “They’re just like mine, except they use crushed pretzels instead of bread crumbs.” The other difference, I noted, was that rather than pounding the chicken breasts, this recipe called for cutting them in half horizontally, which results in a slightly thicker cutlet.
Also, let’s face it, the accompanying mustard-dill dipping sauce, which contained mayonnaise and a little honey, sounded a good deal more appealing than lemon juice. Adriana persisted, so we made the cutlets together. She chopped the dill and whisked together the sauce, and helped with dredging and frying.
She was right, of course. The cutlets were a hit. What’s not to love about a coating made from crunchy-salty pretzels?
These cutlets have now replaced the classic version I used to make. As for the sauce, parents of little ones who are skeptical of all things green should know that it also goes great with just about any vegetable.
Serve this with Caesar salad or, for a lighter option, steamed broccoli drizzled with olive oil and a spritz of lemon juice. For wine, try a crisp white such as sauvignon blanc or chardonnay. You'll probably have some dipping sauce left over, which is good for raw vegetable snacks.
1/2 cup flour
2 large eggs
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
3 cups salted pretzels or broken pretzel pieces
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed of excess fat and tenderloins (about 1 1/2 pounds total; reserve tenderloins for another use)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup regular or low-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying
Have a baking sheet at hand.
Place the flour in a wide, shallow bowl. Lightly beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of the mustard in a separate wide, shallow bowl.
Place the pretzels in the bowl of a food processor; process for about 30 seconds, or until a coarse flour forms. Transfer the pretzel flour to a third wide, shallow bowl.
Place the chicken breast halves on a cutting board. Hold your knife parallel to the board and split each breast in half horizontally. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken lightly with pepper.
Lightly coat both sides of the chicken in the flour, then in the egg and then in the pretzel mixture, coating evenly; shake off any excess pretzel mixture. Transfer to a baking sheet and refrigerate while you make the dipping sauce.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place a few layers of paper towels on a cutting board.
Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of mustard, the mayonnaise, dill, honey and a few grinds of black pepper in a small bowl. Cover until ready to use.
When the oil is hot but not smoking, carefully lay in 3 of the coated chicken breast pieces. Cook for about 2 minutes until the first side is nicely browned. Use tongs to carefully turn the chicken pieces over; cook on the second side for 2 minutes or until side the chicken is cooked through and the second side is golden brown. If the chicken seems to be browning too fast, reduce the heat to medium.
Transfer the chicken breasts to the paper towels on the cutting board; cover loosely to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
Serve warm, with the dipping sauce on the side.
Domenica Marchetti is the author of the upcoming “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” (Chronicle, June 2011) as well as “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy” (Chronicle, 2006) and “Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style” (Chronicle 2008). Her blog is at DomenicaCooks.com.