In our home like many Italian-American homes we ate lots of breaded cutlets. Whether it was veal, chicken, eggplant, or pork (a particular favorite of my Dad’s) anything breaded and fried was especially delicious.
In Italy, cutlets or cotoletta are slices of meat (usually milk fed veal) that are breaded and fried in butter or olive oil. Traditionally cotoletta was cooked and served with the rib bone still attached, while scaloppine was served boneless. Today many dishes are prepared with a thinly sliced or pounded boneless cutlet called cotoletta a orecchio di elefante (elephant ear cutlet) — and chicken is now as popular as veal. While we often think of Italian cutlets being served alla parmigiana with a tomato sauce and cheese, there are other popular preparations that involve a butter sauce (milanese); wine based sauce (scaloppine), or lemon based sauce (piccata).
In fact, parmigiana (covered with tomato sauce and cheese) was originally from the Campania region and traditionally made with eggplant (melanzane) not veal or chicken as is popular today in America.
During the Lista’s Italian Cuisine years, one of my favorite meals on the menu was veal cutlet alla parmigiana with a side of… french fries! (Yeah, like I’ve said before I had a definitely more American palate in those days.) Of course veal cutlet was one of those meats that was too pricey to feed a family of seven, so at home we more often ate chicken or pork cutlets.
When I raised my own kids it was Italian Chicken Cutlets that was the hands down favorite. Whether served alla parmigiana with sauce and mozzarella — or as a more mundane entree served with potato and vegetables, the kids loved it when breaded chicken was on the menu. And the great thing about breaded cutlets is that you can use a less expensive cut of meat and through the tenderizing and breading process elevate and extend it to make a really nice presentation.
It seems whenever I buy boneless skinless chicken breasts at the supermarket, they are gigantic! (I wonder what happen to all the normal sized chickens.) So, when making chicken cutlets I typically buy the humongous breasts and slice them in half through the middle (i.e. butterfly them) so I have 2 breast shaped pieces. Then I place them in a gallon size heavy duty zip-top bag and pound them out with my meat mallet until they are uniformly between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch thick. This ensures the cooking process will be quick and even.
As I’ve written before, I really don’t like to deep-fry anything at home, so I like pan frying these cutlets. Make sure you use a deep, heavy bottomed skillet or frying pan when cooking with hot oil. Allow the oil to reheat between batches so your cutlets don’t get greasy. To avoid burns, use tongs to place the cutlets in the hot oil, turn them, and remove them. I find it best to drain the cutlets on a plate covered with clean newspaper which absorbs the excess oil but doesn’t make the cutlets as soggy while they wait.
And I don’t make many breaded items anymore since we are basically Gluten Free all the time, but I can still make the cutlets using GF bread crumbs (store bought or homemade) — not exactly the same texture as wheat flour bread crumbs but it works if you need to avoid gluten. To make home made gluten free bread crumbs use 4-6 slices gluten free bread and toast them until golden brown. Place on paper towels and allow to cool completely. Break the toast up into pieces and place in bowl of food processor with metal blade. Pulse until uniform fine crumbs are achieved. Place in a mixing bowl and add 1-2 tsp Italian Seasoning and 1/4 tsp garlic powder — combine thoroughly and use as you would store bought crumbs.
Note: If your family likes chicken fingers and chicken nuggets, you can cut the breasts into strips or chunks and follow the same breading and cooking techniques to make them homemade.
Italian Chicken Cutlets
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-20 minutes
Makes: 4 cutlets
2 large Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts – butterflied
4 TBS All Purpose Flour (regular or Gluten Free)
2 Eggs – beaten with 2 TBSP water
2 cups Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs (regular or Gluten Free)
1/4 cup Grated Romano Cheese (optional)
1/2 cup Olive Oil (or as needed)
1. Place each breast on a cutting board and using a long sharp knife, held parallel to cutting board, butterfly the breast by making a lengthwise cut through the entire breast leaving two even pieces.
2. Place each cutlet in a large zip-top bag and using a meat mallet (flat side) on a flat surface, gently pound the cutlet in the bag until about 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick. Continue until all 4 cutlets are uniform size.
3. Add flour to another zip-top bag and shake each cutlet to lightly coat. Placer on platter in refrigerator until ready to bread.
4. In one shallow bowl scramble the eggs with 2 TBSP water.
5. In another bowl place the seasoned bread crumbs mixed with Romano cheese (if using).
6. Dip each floured cutlet in the egg wash and then place in the bread crumbs. Press the cutlet into the bread crumbs; turn over and press into the crumbs on other side. (Repeat pressing into crumbs on both sides until evenly coated.) Remove breaded cutlet to a platter or rimmed baking sheet. Continue same process with remaining cutlets.
7. Heat the oil in a deep, heavy bottomed skillet on medium heat until oil is shimmering and a drop of water sizzles.
8. Using tongs, gently place each cutlet in the hot oil (don’t crowd the pan) and cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes. Gently turn over with tongs and cook on other side for another 2-3 minutes. Test cutlet with an instant read thermometer to make sure they have reached at least 165 degrees F. Remove to a paper lined plate to drain. Continue to cook until all cutlets are done.
9. Serve cutlets plain or topped with a sauce of your choice.
There you have it, Italian Chicken Cutlets, a Lista family favorite! These cutlets are so versatile, pretty quick to make, and sure to please almost everyone. Cutlets can be served as an entree or sandwich… they can even be cut into strips to top a dinner salad.
The cutlets can be made using boneless chicken breasts or thighs, and can be made with veal, pork, or even beef. The same process can be used to make eggplant cutlets or even portabella mushroom cutlets for those that prefer no meat. (Of course you wouldn’t need to pound the eggplant or mushroom caps with a mallet.)
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”