Cooktop Cove: If you're gonna coat your chicken, here are some things you should know
Breading chicken is a great way to make use of this versatile meat, especially for beginners. A thin layer of breading or other coating, locks in the moisture of the chicken which essentially also locks in the flavor. While it's a fairly simple technique, there are things that can go wrong.
When something goes wrong during the preparation process, it can be a major disappointment. The breading can fall off, and you can be left looking at sad, bland chicken. An improper breading technique is the most common mistake made, but there can be others too, namely ending up with chicken that hasn't been well-seasoned. Before you go breading your next batch of chicken, follow these tips and tricks to make sure you get it just right and aren't disappointed when you sit down to the meal.
1. Know the order
There is a specific order for breading any kind of meat, including chicken. It goes like this: dredge the entire piece of chicken in flour, and then dip entirely in egg wash, and then coat in bread crumbs. This order must be followed and if it's not, the breading will slide right off the chicken. The flour ensures that the egg has a dry surface to cling to; and the egg ensures that the breading will stick to the chicken.
Many people think that because the bread crumbs just need something wet, that they can do away with the egg and the flour because the chicken is already slightly wet, but that's not true. A wet egg as well as the protein of the actual egg that helps bind the bread crumbs to it. The moisture on the chicken itself just won't provide this. While we're talking about the eggs, don't use just eggs alone as they will be gelatinous and too thick for proper breading. Instead, add a bit of water or even milk to thin them out.
2. Season all components of your breading station
There's a lot of blandness within the breading process. Flour is bland, bread crumbs are bland, and even chicken (particularly the breasts) can be sort of bland. This is why every single part of the breading process needs to be seasoned. While salt and pepper are a great place to start, you can season it with anything you like, just remember that dry things should be seasoned with dry ingredients while wet ingredients can be seasoned with just about anything.
Start by seasoning the chicken with herbs and spices, and then do the same for the flour and bread crumbs. The eggs can have more added to them than just herbs and spices, think Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce. When adding salt (and everything should have salt) remember to be generous, about one tablespoon for every cup. Not all of this salt will make it into the food, but it will keep blandness at bay.
3. Play with the ingredients
Yes, the breading process does require specific components: flour, egg, and bread crumbs. Once you've mastered this order you can switch things up as long as you keep the order dry, wet, dry. Using cornstarch in place of flour, or a combination of the two, can result in some seriously crunchy chicken that you just can't get with flour alone. Using other dry coatings in place of bread crumbs can help mix things up and make the chicken more interesting. Think ground nuts, Corn Flake cereal, crushed chips or pretzels, or whatever you think would be a great addition to your chicken.
4. Pound the chicken
This isn't absolutely necessary, but it does make for better breaded chicken. If you don't pound the meat, particularly if the pieces of chicken are thick, you'll end up with an off-balance breading to meat ratio. After you make it through that thick piece of chicken, the breading will be hardly noticeable. Instead, pound the chicken to an even thinness using the flat side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin. If you're using chicken breasts, it's likely that just the thick upper half will need to be pounded to the same thinness as the thin, pointed bottom end.
Remember when pounding chicken to place it in between sheets of wax paper, parchment paper or plastic wrap. If you try to pound the meat bare, it will stick to your mallet or rolling pin and likely tear the meat.
5. Remove the tenderloin on chicken breasts
Not all chicken breasts have the tenderloin still attached, but many do. This is the thin strip along the side of the back of the chicken breast. It comes off easily, so easily in fact that often you just have to pull it off - no cutting required. If you try to bread chicken with this still attached, it's likely to partially fall off and it could make it harder to coat the chicken as you'll need to get into all those nooks and crannies. If you're pounding the chicken (which you should), that tenderloin will just turn to mush.
The tenderloin does need to be removed, and what you do with it afterwards is up to you, but you shouldn't throw it out. This is the most tender part of the chicken, and it's a culinary treasure. You can either bread it and cook it on its own, or you can save it in your freezer for when you have enough for a big batch of chicken fingers.
6. Let the oil get hot enough
There's nothing worse than doing all that hard work to get your breading just right, and then ruining it by placing the chicken into cold oil. Doing this will only make the bread crumbs (or other coating) absorb the oil, resulting in greasy chicken and likely causing the coating to fall off during cook time.
Instead, let the oil get hot (between 350 and 375 degrees) if you're deep-frying or pan-frying the chicken. Doing this will start to cook the coating right away, as soon as it touches the oil, and there will be little chance for that coating to absorb the fat and fall off. If you're baking the breaded chicken, there is less worry and you can drizzle the oil right onto the chicken before placing it in the oven. Just make sure hat the oven is preheated to the temperature you want before placing the chicken in. Doing this step will prevent the same problem of the breading absorbing the oil and falling off.
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