Breaded, dredged, fried and delicious, classic chicken cutlets are not for the faint of heart. These simple modifications put a better-for-you twist on an Italian dish.
Growing up, chicken cutlets were a weekly staple at my house. Sometimes they were served simply with mashed potatoes or rice pilaf, other times they bubbled with broiled cheese and homemade gravy (read: red sauce) in a classic Chicken Parmesan dinner. Regardless of how we consumed them, they were always, always cooked on an electric skillet. The same skillet that browned multiple batches of Christmas Day cutlets at my grandparents’ house and the one my mother still swears by for chicken that is equal parts tender and crispy. Nowadays, I don’t have access to that skillet. Rather, I rely on the cast iron or stainless-steel frying pans in my own kitchen to yield a similar result.
These cutlets were perfected far before my time, so it may be a mystery as to why I’d alter them. Do I want my Italian ancestors to roll over in their graves? No. Do I want to ramp up the nutrition for future generations? Well, maybe.
The classic chicken cutlet starts with an egg wash before a healthy dip into a layer of store-bought seasoned breadcrumbs. Some renditions call for a generous dredge of buttermilk, too. Even for eaters who aren’t celiac or carb-conscious, both toppings can pack added sugars and blends of polyunsaturated vegetable oils that can go rancid at high temperatures. Heating these oils past their smoking point can lead to the formation of free radicals (unstable, highly reactive molecules) that can contribute to the development of chronic health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and cancer. And, of course, beyond the fats in store-bought breadcrumbs, the key to a truly good cutlet is frying oil. Lots of it. (Or, if you’re part of my family, enough to coat the chicken and your countertops with every “crackle” and “pop” of the browning process.)
This healthier rendition skips the buttermilk, uses almond meal instead of breadcrumbs and proves that inches of oil may not be necessary for perfectly golden poultry. The gritty texture of the nut meal gives these cutlets the crispy coating that I love, while the added parsley and basil provide the Italian spices that make them complete. Plus, high-quality olive oil adds a bit of spice and keeps the chicken moist, exactly the way it should be. These cutlets won’t be swimming in inches of canola oil, but they won’t be dry, bland or stripped of their best features, either. You’ll know they’re done when they’re golden on the outside and completely white on the inside.
Why limit your meal to chicken cutlets’ quintessential counterpart, pasta? Serve these cutlets on top of spaghetti squash or chopped into a salad for dinner and, for lunch, sandwich them between thick romaine leaves and hunks of fresh avocado.
Grain-free Chicken Cutlets
Breaded, dredged, fried and delicious, classic chicken cutlets are not for the faint of heart. These simple modifications put a better-for-you twist on an Italian dish!
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 egg, whisked
- 1 cup almond meal or almond flour (Almond meal has a grittier texture than almond flour, but both work here.)
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ½ tsp. dried parsley
- ½ tsp. dried basil
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- Instead of the spices list above, you could also use 2 tsp. of your favorite Italian blend seasoning. I love the Original Seasoning Blend by Borsari available at Whole Foods.
- Preheat your skillet over medium high heat. Add 1-2 Tbs. of oil, enough to coat your pan.
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. On a cutting board, cover each chicken breast with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Using a meat pounder, pound the chicken until each piece is ¼” thick.
- In a bowl, crack the eggs and whisk.
- On a plate, combine the almond meal, salt, garlic powder, parsley and basil. Mix well.
- Dip the chicken in the egg mixture and shake off any excess. Next, dredge the chicken in the almond meal and spice mixture, making sure each piece is well coated.
- Place the chicken on the skillet and cook for 5-7 minutes per side. (You’ll know your skillet is hot enough if it sizzles when you add the chicken.)
- Optional: Use a meat thermometer to ensure the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Let the chicken rest for 2-3 minutes. Enjoy!
Ali McGowan is an aspiring Registered Dietitian and a second-year graduate student in the Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change Program at The Friedman School. A fitness enthusiast and frequent obstacle course racer, Ali comes to Tufts with a professional background in public relations, social media, and content marketing, and has assisted with the communications for Fortune-500 companies, including CVS and Hasbro, Inc.