Monday, April 19, 2010

Mustard Chicken

If there is one recipe I am famous for, at least around my house, it is mustard chicken. I have made this recipe at least fifty times, which has helped me perfect it, and which has also made it my husband's first guess at what's for dinner. This is the ideal weeknight main dish. It is quick, easy, and actually healthy. I developed this recipe when I had a health problem that caused me to have to remove "fatty foods" from my diet for six months. This was a challenge, but out of it came the famous mustard chicken, and it stayed on the menu even after I could eat fat; meaning it's worth taking a shot at even if you scoff at "health foods."

Mustard chicken is essentially chicken cutlets (I mean, who doesn't love cutlets, right?) with mustard acting as the sealing agent rather than your typical flour/eggs routine. This not only makes the dish healthier, but gives it a lighter more flavorful taste that can go well with a variety of side dishes. Depending on how much you like mustard, or which type you like, you can mix it up. I like to use a pretty strong dijion or grainy mustard, because I like the mustard taste to be prominent. If you are a little afraid of mustard, try a honey mustard, and you'll get a pleasantly sweet tasting cutlet, and the mustard will be your secret.

Here is what you will need (serves 3-4):

Mustard Chicken

3-4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, sliced in half through the middle of the breast, and pounded thin (you can use a saucepan if you don't have a mallet)*
1 cup of breadcrumbs (both regular and panko work fine, but panko gives a good crunch)
3-4 Tbsps of dijon or grain mustard
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Toasted Sesame seeds (optional)
*you can also brine the chicken breasts in salt water beforehand, to bring out more flavor


The first step is to have all your materials ready. I use a kitchen brush and a fork, and this way, I never have to touch the chicken, and I don't get my hands all covered in breadcrumby mess. See sample "station" here.

Now, the first thing you'll want to do is spread your mustard onto the chicken with the brush. You want a nice coating, but you don't want globs of it on one part and barely anything on another part. If you don't have a brush and are using a knife to spread it, that is fine, but just be sure not to put too much. It's a coating; the mustard should not be dripping off at any point. See photo.

Now, take one cutlet and set it mustard side down in a plate of breadcrumbs (put your toasted sesame seeds in the breadcrumbs if you are using them). Press it into the crumbs with the back of the fork. While it is still in the breadcrumbs, use your brush to coat the other side with mustard. Try your best not to touch the breadcrumbs. You will want to keep your ingredients as separate as possible to avoid mess. Once finished, use the fork to pick it up, and put the side you just coated down into the bread crumbs. You may have to use the fork to push the breadcrumbs onto the sides of the chicken if your cutlet is large.

Repeat this for all cutlets, and put aside on a plate. Once they are all finished being coated, get a frying pan ready with some olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of your pan, but not too much (the chicken shouldn't sink into it). Wait, can you leave the coated cutlets while you are busy tending to your side dishes? Why yes you can. These cutlets cook in about 5-7 minutes, so if you have other things you want to prepare, go for it. These cutlets can stay breaded for a while and not lose their texture because there is no flour. With a flour coating, you want to cook your cutlets right away or the flour will congeal, yielding a weirdly textured product. Here, there is no worry about that. Just don't leave it out for too long (more than 20 minutes or so); if it's going to be longer, put them in the fridge.

Ok, so you've got your pan with olive oil. Set this on medium high, and when the oil starts to shimmer, it means it is good and hot (if it starts to smoke, it's too hot!) Then take your cutlets and put them right down in the pan with enough space between them so they are not touching.

The goal here is to only flip these once, kind of like fish. The reason for that is that there are no eggs holding these breadcrumbs. They will stay on, but you don't want to be constantly turning them because then they will fall off. Keep that one side down for a few minutes--the oil will be very hot, so be careful of spatters! I wear long sleeves for this because I really hate getting hot oil on me. Then, when you think it's ready, just peek at the underside. It should be golden brown. You should also start to see the edges of your chicken turn white from the raw side. Then, flip them. Using a flat spatula works, but I like to just use a fork, that way I don't scrape any of the crumbs off accidentally.

After this side is cooked, you are done! You should serve them right away to ensure crispiness.

Here are the tips to remember:
1. Pound chicken so it's thin; you only want to flip the chicken once and thin cuts will ensure that the chicken is cooked through after one flip.
2. When spreading the mustard on the chicken make the layer thin; you want the flavor but if you put too much, it will overwhelm the breadcrumbs.
3. Don't let the oil get too hot; if you see smoke or if all the oil gets soaked up, replace it fast, and turn down the heat. You want crispy cutlets, but not burned ones!

Now mustard chicken can become famous in your house, too. Enjoy!

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