Chicken cutlets, chicken tenders…whatever you prefer to call them, here’s a fairly guilt-free method for making them. Since good cooking fat is expensive, I’m showcasing a way to shallow-fry the chicken so you’re not burning up a quart of good tallow or lard.
Pan-Fried Chicken Cutlets
Panko bread crumbs work best here. They’re lighter and soak up less oil, resulting in a far crispier cutlet.
I’ve adapted this from America’s Test Kitchen’s book The Chicken Bible.
- 12″ skillet (any type works fine here)
- meat tenderizer
- two shallow dishes
- wire rack
- rimmed baking sheet
- 4 chicken breasts (6-8 oz. each) boneless and skinless
- 2 c. panko crumbs
- 1 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 tbsp. paprika (optional)
- pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 c. cooking fat of choice (See notes at the bottom.)
- butter for topping
- Put the crumbs in a large Ziploc bag and crush lightly. I use a rolling pin, but your fists work fine too.
- Transfer the crumbs to a large plate or shallow dish and add the spices (garlic powder, paprika, cayenne). Mix well.
- Whisk the eggs and salt in a second dish (don’t use a plate here).
- Cut each breast in half horizontally (parallel to the counter). Pound to even 1/4″ thickness.
- Working with one cutlet at a time, dredge cutlets in the egg mixture, allow excess to drip off back into the dish, then coat all sides with the panko mixture. You may need to gently press the crumbs to adhere. Transfer the cutlet to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet.
- Repeat for the remaining cutlets.
- Heat 1/4 c. cooking fat in the 12″ skillet over medium-high neat until shimmering (not smoking).
- Put 4 cutlets in the skillet and cook about 3 minutes, then flip and cook another 3-4 minutes. You’re looking for a nice golden brown on each side. Adjust the heat accordingly to achieve this.
- Transfer the cutlets to a plate, then wipe the skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. You want to do this so any stray crumbs left behind don’t start to burn and smoke.
- Repeat with the remaining 1/4 c. cooking fat and cutlets.
- Obviously no one reading this is using vegetable oil. I’ve used lard, tallow, and bacon grease to do this. Tallow imparts a unique “retro diner” flavor. I don’t really know any other way to describe it. Lard is pretty neutral, and bacon grease adds more savoriness. Tallow seems to hold up well to repeated fryings with meat when strained and filtered. Bacon grease will need to be discarded after this meal, and lard has been mixed for me. Sometimes I’ll cook these when my cooking fat is on its “last leg” so to speak from other uses, and then it’s less wasteful if I have to discard it at the end.
- If you want chicken tenders, then cut the cutlets into strips about 2″ wide after you’ve pounded them thin. You may need to make another 1/2 batch of panko mixture with the added surface area, though.