Recipe Review

Smitten Kitchen’s “Crispiest” Chicken Cutlets Are Absolute Perfection — Here’s Her Secret

published Apr 14, 2021
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Credit: Sara Tane

There is something extremely therapeutic to me about breading and frying chicken. I grew up in a carb-fearing household, so we were more of a grilled/roasted chicken bunch. Now as an adult, when I make myself chicken at home, I do it exactly how I’m craving it. For me that means showering it in a starchy mixture of flour and breadcrumbs and then dunking it in a pot of hot oil — homemade breaded chicken perfection.

So I was surprised when one of my favorite home cooks, Deb Perelman (aka Smitten Kitchen), recently posted a recipe for chicken cutlets that skips the step of flouring the chicken. This may seem inconsequential, but anyone who has ever breaded anything knows that standard breading procedure calls for flour, egg, then breadcrumbs. I’m all for a good shortcut, but is it really okay to just throw out an entire step of a cooking method that has been undisputed for so long? *Whispers* Does this mean I can also skip washing my lettuce? (No, Sara, it does not.)

But here’s the thing: Not only does Deb suggest that skipping the flour is possible, but she also says it makes the chicken even better. “Less heavy. Absolutely crunchy. Crumbs never fall off in soft-sided chunks,” Deb explains in her recipe. Could this really be true? I had to find out for myself.

Credit: Sara Tane

What’s the Point of Using Flour for Breading, Anyways?

Dredging a food item in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs helps seal in moisture when deep-frying or pan-frying foods, thus yielding extremely crispy results. Remember: Moisture and hot oil are enemies, and dredging the item in flour wicks away any surface moisture. Additionally, flour gives the egg something to stick to. When the flour is removed, it also begs the following questions: Will the egg adhere to the chicken? And will the breadcrumbs adhere to the eggs?

Credit: Sara Tane

My Honest Review of Smitten Kitchen’s Crispiest Chicken Cutlets

I would trust Deb Perelman with my life, so when I read that she was skipping flour for her chicken cutlets, I knew wholeheartedly it was probably fine. Honestly, I love when culinary truths that have been held for so long turn out to be not as crucial as once thought. When I learned that searing meat doesn’t actually “seal in juices,” I made a promise to myself that I’d eye every piece of culinary wisdom with a fair bit of skepticism.

So I went ahead and put this technique to the test. It’s very straightforward: Pound the chicken, dip each piece in egg, dip each piece in breadcrumbs (either homemade or panko-style), then fry until golden-brown. The results were absolute, crispy perfection. I had no issues with the breadcrumbs adhering to the chicken — in fact, you’d truly never know 1/3 of the standard breading procedure was thrown to the curb. The cutlets were breaded perfectly and the chicken was ultra juicy and tender. When I cut into the cutlets, the breading didn’t fall apart or tear. I was also pleasantly surprised by the texture I got from a classic homemade breadcrumb, since I typically use panko. I will, without question, bread my chicken cutlets like this again. 

Was it the crispiest chicken I’ve ever had? Yes, but only by a small margin. Chicken that’s breaded with flour is still very crispy, but there’s a very subtle starchy film of gel underneath the breading that’s created from the flour and egg making contact with each other. With the flourless chicken, there was no film underneath the breading — just a super-thin and crispy breadcrumb exterior that I found to be less heavy than a classic cutlet.

Skipping the flour step doesn’t save a ton of time, but if having one less bowl out on your counter makes breading and frying chicken seem more manageable, this shortcut is for you. 

Credit: Sara Tane

2 Things to Know If You Use Deb’s Crispy Chicken Shortcut

  1. Make sure that the cutlet is completely coated in breadcrumbs. Any exposed chicken adds a ton of moisture to the cutlets, which will prevent you from achieving that signature, golden-brown, crusty exterior.
  2. Listen to Deb. Take a few minutes to read through her blog post for her suggestions about what kind of chicken to use, how much oil to cook them in, etc.

Have you tried Smitten Kitchen’s Crispiest Chicken Cutlets? Let us know in the comments below.