SCHNITZEL, IN THE FORM of chicken Milanese or breaded chicken cutlets, is my No.1 hands-down crowd-pleaser dinner. Schnitzels are the adult version of chicken nuggets and just as addictive. When my picky extended family comes over, when my teenage sons have friends to dinner or when we just need some plain comfort food—it’s time to bread some chicken cutlets. I make a lot at once, mainly because once you’re frying, you might as well make a decent-sized batch. I need some for the next day anyway because schnitzel is also one my family’s most beloved leftovers. We can eat the cooked cutlets cold, make them into great sandwiches with sliced avocado, tomato and lettuce, or reheat them topped with spaghetti sauce and mozzarella for a quick chicken Parmesan.
When I was a kid, my mom used veal to make her schnitzels. They were delicious, but veal cutlets are on the pricey side and the quality is spotty, so I opt instead for chicken-breast cutlets. You can buy them pre-sliced or buy skinless, boneless chicken breasts and slice and pound them into cutlets. And you can make them any size you want; just don’t pound them out of existence—somewhere just under ½ inch will do. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper and set aside while you prepare the breading station. Sound scary? Not once you get the hang of it.
Breading schnitzel: Arrange the cutlets on a large sheet of aluminum foil and season with salt and pepper. Next, lay out another large sheet of foil to protect the counter because things are going to get messy. Make a tray out of foil and fill with flour. A couple of eggs beaten with a few tablespoons of water go into a pie plate. Breadcrumbs go into their own homemade aluminum foil tray. So now you have your 1-2-3 breading
station: flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs. ( I like to use Panko, a crispy Japanese take on breadcrumbs, but you can use regular breadcrumbs, matzo meal or my mom’s favorite, seasoned bread crumbs.) If you want to get fancy you add freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the crumbs, but I prefer to keep the cutlets on the plain side, and my main seasoning is a healthy sprinkle of salt and pepper.
If you want, you can use shallow dishes for the flour and the breadcrumbs and skip lining the counter with foil, but these steps make the clean-up much easier.
Line a large platter or sheet pan with plastic wrap and go to town breading. Each cutlet starts with the flour: You want to completely coat the chicken pieces with a thin layer. Next comes the egg wash, again to cover. And then on to the breadcrumbs for the final coat. Try to do the flouring with one hand, use a fork to dip each cutlet in the egg mixture, and do the breadcrumbing with the other hand. As each piece is done getting its three coatings, transfer it to the plastic-lined sheet. After you fill the tray, place another layer of plastic wrap or a sheet of waxed paper and keep going until you are done with all the cutlets.
Basic breading formula: I have a basic formula to figure out how much of everything I need:
For 2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, about 1½ cups of flour, 3 eggs beaten with 3 tablespoons water, 8 ounces Panko breadcrumbs.
When you’re done with the breading, the pie pan and fork go into the sink and the whole aluminum foil setup goes into the garbage—the mess is all gone! At this point, you can cover the whole tray in plastic wrap and place in the fridge until dinner time.)
Fry time: When you’re ready, line a large platter or an aluminum foil sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Add oil to a large frying pan to a depth of about 1 inch. You’ll need about a quart of oil; I use peanut or canola oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat; when a breadcrumb dropped in the oil sizzles, you’re ready to go. Start frying the cutlets, adjusting the heat of the oil so it stays hot but doesn’t burn the cutlets. As the cutlets brown on the bottom side, carefully turn over and cook until lightly browned on the second side. Transfer the cooked cutlets to the paper towel-lined platter and continue until all the cutlets are cooked. Be patient: 2 pounds of cutlets are going to take you some time to cook, but it’s totally worth it.
Serve warm or at room temperature with lemon wedges so you can squeeze fresh lemon juice over the cutlets. Or serve atop a bed of greens with a mustardy vinaigrette. And yes, the kids may want ketchup or barbecue sauce.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks” provides dinner ideas every Monday. For previous columns, type My Dinner With in the Search box at the top of the screen.