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How to Boil Water: Chicken cutlets

Ben Mims
Chicken cutlets are ideal for breading and frying to bring restaurant-style cooking to your kitchen.  (Hanna Carter / For The Times)

With so many of you having to stay home and cook for the first time — ever or more than you have in a long time — we get that it can be overwhelming to have to cook all your meals from scratch. So we’re here to get you started.

Each day we’re going to post a new skill here and go in detail about how to do it — a resource for cooking basics so you can get food on the table and get through this.

Watch a live demonstration of this recipe at 6 p.m. Tuesday on our @latimesfood Instagram.

Lesson 9: Breaded chicken cutlets

Chicken cutlets are one of my favorite things to order when I’m out because I tell myself they’re fussy to prepare at home. And, yes, they are fussier than doing nothing but they’re not at all difficult and are easy to ace on your first try. The basics are simple.

Breaded cutlets are one of the rare instances where I use boneless skinless chicken breasts. (I dislike how, with one fat end and the other tapering to a point, chicken breasts cook unevenly.)

But for cutlets, you change the rules of engagement, pounding the breast meat into an even thickness. To do so place a sheet of plastic wrap, parchment paper or foil — whatever you have — on a work surface and put a chicken breast on top. Cover with another sheet and break out your meat mallet, rolling pin or a big heavy can of tomatoes or beans. Use this time to take out all your rage about not being able to go out to restaurants and pummel the chicken breast through the plastic until it’s even and about ¼-inch thick. Uncover the chicken, place it on a plate and repeat with however many more breasts you’re going to cook.

Next, set up a breading station. (I won’t lie, breading something does dirty up three extra dishes, but you have never had more time to do dishes before, have you?) Set out three large plates, shallow bowls or pie plates — whatever you use, just make sure it’s big enough to fit one chicken cutlet with plenty of room around the edges.

In the first plate, plop in a big handful of flour (measurements don’t matter here), sprinkle it with salt and pepper and zhush it around with your fingers. In the second plate, crack in two eggs, add a splash of water and whisk it together with a fork until it’s more or less homogeneous. In the third plate, rain down two big handfuls of bread crumbs. I make my own because I have a lot of bread to use up but the store-bought kind is just as good. Just like with the flour, sprinkle in some salt and pepper and mix it in with your fingers.

Now, here’s where I stray from tradition: Because I’ll be serving these cutlets with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over just before eating, I like to take the zest off that lemon and add it to the bread crumbs so the cutlets are extra zingy and I don’t waste that aromatic zest. Take a Microplane zester and finely grate the zest of one lemon directly over the plate of bread crumbs then mix it in with your fingers, sort of lazily-rubbing it into the crumbs to release its oils.

Alright, we’re ready to cook! If you want to cook two cutlets at a time, get your biggest skillet out from wherever you’ve hidden it because you never thought you'd use it (or use two skillets at the same time!) and place it on the stove; if cooking one at a time, that beat-up clunker you use every day is perfect. Add a couple tablespoons of butter and the same amount in glugs of olive oil. Heat the skillet over medium heat, swirling the butter and oil, until the butter melts and stops frothing.

While the fats heat up, bread your cutlets. Season one cutlet on both sides with salt and pepper, then place in the flour and flip to coat all over. Shake gently to rid it of any excess flour and then dip both sides in the beaten egg. Lift it out of the egg, letting it hang out until no more egg drips off, then coat it in the lemony bread crumbs. Transfer it directly to the hot skillet and, if cooking a second cutlet, quickly repeat the breading process and get it in the skillet too. Cook until the bread crumb coating on the bottom is deep golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes, then use a flat spatula and some confidence and flip each cutlet over. Cook 2 to 3 more minutes until the other side is golden and the chicken is cooked through, then transfer each cutlet to a serving plate.

If you’re cooking more cutlets, add more butter and oil and repeat cooking as many as you need (keep the first cutlets warm on a baking sheet in a heated 200-degree oven until all the cutlets are ready; they’ll hold there for about 20 minutes without any drop in quality). If not, kill the heat under the skillet and immediately topple some cold, crunchy arugula (or whatever salad green you managed to forage from the grocery store) over the hot cutlet. Cut that zested lemon from earlier into wedges and grab one for each plate. Run to your couch and eat the cutlet while it’s still blisteringly hot and, for a brief moment, remember what it was like to eat out blissfully out in public. Then bargain with whomever you live with to see if they’ll do the dishes.

Lemon Breadcrumb Chicken