This thin and crispy chicken reminds me of an amped-up schnitzel: its perfectly golden crust is spiked with mustard, lemon, and oregano. The combination pairs wonderfully with a fennel salad tossed in dijon dressing, but the salad and chicken could each shine individually as well. I zeroed in on this recipe in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook after I was at a complete loss for cooking inspiration after a spate of Thai dishes. This recipe kicked me back into gear. After a day at work, however, this recipe is a bit laborious to make from start to finish. Despite my naive ambition, I was very pleased the results. This chicken is perfectly crisp and SO flavorful. Definitely worth making when you have the time or when you can get a head start.
Begin by preparing the chicken. Slice two large chicken breasts in half crosswise so that you get two cutlets out of each breast. The easiest way to slice a chicken breast this way is to put it on a cutting board, pick up a sharp knife, and press down on the chicken breast with your free palm. Bring your eyes level with the chicken and slice through the breast horizontally, taking care to avoid cutting your hand that is pressing down on the chicken. Once the chicken is cut, place a cutlet between 2 sheets of wax paper, and pound it uniformly thin with a rolling pin or meat mallet. Then, season one side of each cutlet with salt and pepper.
Get out 3 shallow bowls, and set up your crusting station. To the first bowl, add 1/4 cup of flour. To the second bowl, add 1 egg white, 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest. Whisk the ingredients together until they are evenly combined. To the third bowl, add 1.5 cups of panko breadcrumbs.
Turn a piece of chicken in the flour, and shake off the excess. Then, coat the chicken in the mustard mixture (don’t let the mustard mixture go on too thick or else you won’t have enough left to coat the remaining pieces of chicken). Lastly, coat the chicken in the breadcrumbs, making sure the entire thing is covered. Repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken. Put the chicken on a plate, and cover the plate with plastic wrap. Put the chicken into the fridge for 1 hour, which the original recipe says allows the coating to set. I followed the instructions and let my chicken rest, so I don’t know how important this step really is. But I do know that my refrigerator smelled incredible one hour later. Alternatively, you could leave the chicken in the fridge for a day until you’re ready to cook it.
While the chicken rests, prepare the salad. Use a mandoline to thinly slice a small fennel bulb. Pick out any pieces of tough core. You’ll add an equal amount of arugula to the salad later. For the dressing, whisk together 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of coarse dijon mustard (the kind with the seeds) and 1 tablespoon of smooth dijon mustard (the kind without the seeds). I was out of coarse dijon, so I used 2 tablespoons of smooth and 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds. Once those ingredients are combined, while whisking, slowly pour in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Taste the dressing, and adjust any components. Don’t assemble the salad until you’re ready to serve it.
When you’re ready to cook the chicken, heat your oven to 175º F. Then, fill a skillet with 1/2 inch of oil (a mixture of olive and vegetable oils works well, but olive oil alone will smoke you out). Heat the oil over medium-high until it sizzles when a breadcrumb is dropped in it. In batches, cook the chicken on one side until you can see it getting golden around the edges (about 3-4 minutes), and then flip it over until the bottom is golden brown and the chicken is cooked through (about another 2-3 minutes). Quickly drain the chicken on paper towels, transfer it to a cooling rack set on a baking sheet, and put the baking sheet into the oven to keep the chicken warm while you continue cooking. The cooling rack allows air to circulate all around the chicken and prevents it from getting soggy. You worked so hard for that beautiful, golden crust, so keep it alive!
When you’re ready to serve, put the dressing in the bottom of a salad bowl. Add the sliced fennel and an equal amount of arugula. Toss it to coat. Sadly, DC was having an arugula shortage (seriously) on the day I made this recipe, so I had to resort to a salad mixture, and it was just fine.
Serve the chicken with the salad, and eat it up. You’ll be amazed by how clearly you can taste the mustard, lemon, and oregano in the chicken. The flavors are bright and fantastic, lightening up a fried delight. The salad keeps things fresh too. I know David is waiting for me to make this meal again…on a weekend.
For the chicken:
- Chicken breasts- 2
- Salt and pepper
- Flour- 1/4 cup
- Egg white- 1
- Dijon mustard- 2 tablespoons
- Garlic- 2 cloves
- Dried oregano- 1 teaspoon
- Lemon zest- 1/2 teaspoon
- Panko breadcrumbs- 1.5 cups
- Oil for frying
For the salad:
- Lemon juice- 3 tablespoons
- Coarse dijon mustard- 2 tablespoons
- Smooth dijon mustard- 1 tablespoon
- Olive oil- 1/4 cup
- Fennel- 1 small bulb