By J.M. HIRSCH
The Associated Press
CONCORD, N.H. – Imagine a fast-food chicken cutlet sandwich.
Now imagine a good chicken cutlet sandwich. A crusty bun, crisp green lettuce, slabs of juicy tomato, tart-and-sweet pickles, a rich mustard sauce, and real breaded chicken (no poultry pieces, thank you so much) fried crisp outside and tender inside.
That’s what I wanted. And I wanted it at home.
So I started playing. First with the chicken. Besides crispy and tender, I wanted this chicken to be moist and intensely flavorful with sweet and savory undertones. And, of course, it had to be quick.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts made the most sense. Breasts are juicy, but have virtually no fat. Trouble is, they often are a little too thick to sit comfortably on a sandwich. That thickness also means they would take too long to cook.
So I cut them in half, then I bashed them. Some people prefer to call it tenderizing or flattening.
Whatever you call it, it works. Placing each half breast between sheets of plastic wrap and pounding it with a mallet, meat tenderizer or (in my case) rolling pin leaves you with a flat, thin, tender piece of chicken that cooks in minutes. Just be careful – too much bashing obliterates the meat.
For flavor, I considered marinating but decided it would take too long. My solution was to substitute honey mustard for the egg normally used as the glue to hold the bread crumb coating.
Once my cutlets were dredged and coated, next came cooking. Baking appealed to me for health and convenience, but I ultimately settled on skillet frying with just a touch of oil to get a better crisp.
The resulting chicken was delicious. But the honey mustard wasn’t as assertive as I’d hoped. The solution? After the chicken was cooked, I deglazed the pan with a bit of chicken broth and more mustard, then drizzled the resulting sauce over the sandwich.
With my chicken sussed out, the rest was easy. I passed on that flavorless white garbage sold as burger rolls at most grocers and instead went with a hearty wheat roll that was crusty outside and tender inside, much like my chicken.
To complement my chicken, I added a bed of crisp lettuce, slices of tomato and bread and butter pickles. It was amazing.
If you’re looking for even more gusto, top the chicken with crumbled blue cheese and slices of raw red onion.
Honey Mustard Breaded Chicken Sandwich
(Start to finish 30 minutes)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup honey mustard
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 sourdough rolls
4 medium Boston lettuce leaves
1 medium tomato, sliced
Bread and butter pickle slices
Preheat oven to 200 F.
In a shallow bowl, mix the flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Place the bread crumbs in a second shallow bowl. Set both aside.
Carefully cut the chicken breast in half horizontally. Place each half between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, gently pound each breast until evenly flattened. Unwrap the breasts and dredge each through the flour mixture to evenly coat both sides. Place the halves on a plate.
Using a pastry brush or large spoon, coat both sides of each cutlet with mustard. Set aside remaining mustard. Dredge each cutlet through the bread crumbs to evenly coat both sides.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium-high flame. Place both cutlets in the skillet and cook for 4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Flip the cutlets and cook an additional 3 minutes, or until cooked through and crisp.
Transfer the cutlets to an ovenproof plate and place in the oven to keep warm.
Return the skillet to the burner. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining mustard, chicken broth and cornstarch, then add to skillet. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
To assemble the sandwiches, place two lettuce leaves and half the tomato slices on each bun, then top with a chicken cutlet. Drizzle the chicken with the skillet sauce, then top with pickles. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 sandwiches.
J.M. Hirsch can be e-mailed at email@example.com.