chicken cutlets

Last week I bought my first pair of spanks. Not the squeeziest ones, the second least squeeziest, if I’m talking about something you’re already into here. Last night - Friday night - was spent hanging out on my couch solo with a half bottle of wine and full container of papaya salad (plus noodles) from the Thai place down the street. Cos was eating cinnamon toast crunch for dinner when I got home and passed out as the sun was going down. I gave him a pass, though, for not entertaining me on a potential *date night* (what does that even mean?) since he had woken up at 3:30am yesterday morning to fly back from a conference out midwest.

I got the the spanks, as I was saying, to wear under a dress I recently purchased from a company that makes mostly long, fitted casual dresses and whose self-proclaimed target audience is chic city-living moms. It’s this long-sleeved, pink, Jackie-O camelot kind of number, but it’s made out of stretchy cotton for all day comfort. And heaven help me if I don’t already sound like a middle-aged working mom of 4 then let me tell you about how I’ve been trying to eat more protein these days. The goal is for protein to account for 30% of my daily intake.

This is one tall order, as it turns out, since there’s only so much tofu or chickpeas, or even bolognese or salmon a woman can eat. When your goal is for a third of what you eat to be protein, at some point you just have to break down and do what is truly expected of you. You have to eat a chicken breast. A boring ass boneless, skinless, thanks-but-no-thanks chicken breast. And it is for this reason (among so many others) that I am forever indebted the classic chicken cutlet. Thank you, fried chicken cutlet, for making the most boring cut of chicken worth eating.

There has never been a time in my life when I didn't have love for a thin-cut and pounded, egged, breaded, and shallow-fried chicken cutlet, though the time I spent working in Midtown Manhattan was when my feelings really went next level. The deli where I picked up my order - cutlet sandwich on a hoagie, hold the cheese, add lettuce, mayo, and mustard (or sometimes lettuce, buffalo, and ranch) - was juuust far enough away from my office that I had to attempt to run one of the ways, either to or from but usually on the way back, with a brown-bagged sammie flapping in my hand and a glass-bottled coke fizzing over in the other. It sounds ridiculous because it was ridiculous, but trust that if I was willing to go that far out of my way just to forgo my beloved Num Pang, all the fuss was worth it.

There is actually another anecdote about the unquestionable amazingness of fried chicken cutlets I had wanted to write about because it’s genuinely the best one I know of. The only problem is that it’s not exactly my story to tell. But what if I just tiptoe in and slide around it? I may have mentioned this before, but Cos was a vegetarian when we got together, and he stayed that way for the first couple years of our relationship. Then, over one Thanksgiving holiday we spent out in the Bay while we were living in New York, I made dinner for the friends who were hosting us. The menu was lemon pasta, roasted Brussels sprouts, and chicken milanese (Italian cutlets) for the three omnivores. The vegetarian would stick with pasta and Brussels. Except, when we sat down to eat, there were suddenly four meat-eaters at the table, and no vegetarians. And that’s how it remains to this day. When questioned about it, he says it was happenstance and that he had been contemplating the change for a while. But we all know the truth - chicken fried cutlets are food from the goddesses that will change your life.

An actual lunch of mine recently. Thirty freakin' percent, yo!

An actual lunch of mine recently. Thirty freakin' percent, yo!

Chicken Milanese, adapted very slightly from Anne Burrell
Serves 4

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and lightly pounded to 1/4-inch thick
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil, vegetable, or a combo of oils for frying (I use mainly veg with a bit of evoo to save $$)

Set up a standard breading procedure by lining up three wide deep plates or bowls in a row on your counter. Fill the first one with flour, the second with the eggs beaten with water, and the third with the panko mixed with grated Parmigiano.

Season the chicken breasts with salt on both sides. Using one hand for dry things and one hand for wet things, take each piece of chicken through the breading procedure: dredge lightly in the flour, then the egg wash, then through the bread crumbs. Lay the breaded chicken on a sheet tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes. [This is the perfect interval of time to prepare whatever side dish(es) you'll be having.]

Pour olive oil into a large saute pan until it reaches a thickness of about a half an inch (better a little more rather than a little less), and bring to a medium-high heat. Test the oil by flicking a couple of bread crumbs into the oil. If it doesn't sizzle-WAIT! When the oil is hot, test it again by dipping the edge of a piece of chicken into the oil; the oil should gently sizzle.

Fry the chicken in batches until it is crispy and golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes on the first side and 3 to 4 minutes on the other side. Do not crowd the pan or the chicken will become very greasy and soggy. When the chicken is golden and cooked through, remove it to drain paper towels and sprinkle with salt. You can keep the chicken warm in a 200 degree oven while the rest of the chicken is cooking.