I love breaded chicken. I'm not really sure when that happened. It's not something we ate a lot of growing up. But for some reason, it's really grown on me. Now I have to restrain myself to make sure I don't make it too often!
It's such a great way to add a little something to your meal. You get a crispy, crunchy, flavorful outside, and a juicy, tender inside. Add a side of fries or mashed potatoes, a salad, and what could be better?
Breading chicken is actually really easy. It involves two simple techniques: dredging and soaking.
In Part 1 of this article, I explain what these two techniques are. In Part 2, I give three ways to combine those methods to make delicious chicken breading.
This article is a bit on the long side. But don't panic! It's because I go into detail about all the different ways to make chicken breading.
I want you to understand each step. Once you understand why you're doing something, it's much easier to remember it, and also a lot easier to modify it to suit your own tastes. And that's key to cooking up something you love.
The simplest one, flour, is the traditional way to make fried chicken.
Dredging your chicken in flour gives a nice, smooth coating. You end up with breaded chicken that's nice and crispy, but not crumbly or grainy.
Out of all the coatings, flour takes the longest to get crispy. This makes it the best for frying (other coatings can burn before the chicken is cooked). It also means that oven-frying takes a lot longer.
You can use whole wheat flour, too. It won't change much to the texture, but it has a bit of a different flavor.
My personal favorite for chicken breading, breadcrumbs. Yum!
Breadcrumbs give almost as smooth a coating as flour, but it's generally a bit thicker and crispier. The crust ends up pretty uniform, since all the breadcrumbs are the same size.
You can also make a coating out of crushed cornflakes.
The best way to crush the cornflakes is to place what you need in a resealable plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin till they're as small as you like.
This gives your chicken breading a bit more of a textured crunch. Each crushed cornflake will be a slightly different size. Overall, they'll be bigger than breadcrumbs, so you'll get a bigger crunch. It also gives a slightly different flavor to the breading.
Crushed crackers are a lot like crushed cornflakes. But they taste a bit different, generally saltier, and aren't quite as crunchy.
I also like to season my dry ingredients. The best seasonings to use are dry ones, like cayenne pepper, paprika, granulated garlic, basil, oregano, or even parmesan cheese. Anything that doesn't alter the texture of the breading too much.
When making breaded chicken, I find that seasoning the breading adds more flavor than seasoning the meat itself. The seasonings in the breading actually come into contact with the heat, and that releases all the wonderful flavors.
Why dredge the chicken?
There are plenty of good reasons to dredge your chicken. It's not just there to add an extra step to your meal making, I promise!
The coating will help it brown and crisp evenly, and prevent it from burning.
It helps prevent the meat from sticking to the pan. Instead of the meat being in direct contact with the hot pan, the chicken breading acts like a shield.
The coating will keep your chicken moist. This is important, because breaded chicken is usually cooked at fairly high temperatures, and you don't want it to dry out.
If you decide to soak your chicken, dredging it in flour beforehand will help the liquid stick to the meat.
How do I dredge chicken?
Dredging chicken is super easy. Here's how you do it:
Prepare your dry ingredients. If you make chicken breading often, you can even prepare a large batch of dry ingredients ahead of time. That way, you don't have to go through your spice rack every time, and you only need to add the perishables, like parmesan.
If you're on the first coat, pat the chicken dry with paper towels. That way, you get a nice, even coating on your chicken. You don't want it to end up with big clumps of flour!
Dredge the chicken! Here are two good ways to do it:
Place the dry ingredients in a bowl. The bowl should be wide enough to fit your biggest piece of chicken. Drag the chicken through it, making sure to coat each side. If you use a deeper bowl, you can plunge the whole piece into your mixture, which tends to give a thicker coating.
Place the dry ingredients into a large resealable bag. Put your chicken pieces in one or two at a time (depending on the size), seal the bag, and shake to coat the chicken.
If you're doing a base coat of flour, shake the chicken gently to removing excess flour. And you're done!
This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You dunk your piece of chicken into a liquid and get it nice and coated.
The main reason for soaking chicken is to get a wet layer on the chicken. That way, when you dredge your chicken through some breadcrumbs or flour, you get a thicker chicken breading, which means more crunch!
But you can also soak your chicken for a longer time. Instead of just quickly dipping your chicken in the liquid, you can marinate it a few hours. 2-3 hours is fine if you're short on time, but generally it's best to marinate 8 hours or overnight.
One of the great things about marinating is that any seasoning you add to the liquid will have time to flavor your meat. And, unlike the breading, it's a great time to use fresh herbs and spices: a fresh sprig of rosemary, crushed garlic, a bit of fresh parsley, or anything you like!
The egg wash is a popular way to soak chicken. Mix 1 tablespoon of milk or water into 1 slightly beaten egg. This will coat about 2 chicken breasts.
This gives a medium coating on your chicken. The more water or milk you add, the thinner the chicken breading. You can adjust the recipe to suit your tastes.
As an alternative to the egg wash, you can use an egg white wash. Mix 1 tablespoon of milk or water with 2 slightly beaten egg whites.
The egg white wash is very similar to the egg wash, but you don't get all the cholesterol. It's not quite as easy to work with as the whole egg wash, but it is better for certain diets.
You can also use buttermilk to soak your chicken.
Buttermilk leaves a thick, viscous coating. It also gives a yummy, tangy flavor to the chicken.
Buttermilk is great if you want to soak your chicken for a longer time. You get more of that tangy flavor, and the acids in the buttermilk tenderize the chicken.
If you use buttermilk, be sure to let the excess buttermilk drip off the chicken after soaking it, but don't shake the chicken. Just let gravity do its work!
Plain milk is another option.
Milk doesn't stick to the chicken as much as the other liquids, so you end up with a thin coating. It also doesn't alter the flavor too much.
For a long soak, milk will help tenderize the chicken without altering the flavor.
Sometimes I'll use mayonnaise for this step, but usually cut it with milk or water. Mix thoroughly, and stop adding milk when the mixture drips out nicely from a spoon (it shouldn't be clumped up). If it's too thick, it won't coat the chicken evenly.
If you like a thick chicken breading, mayonnaise is the way to go. It gives just about the thickest coating of all. You can cut it with more or less milk to get it just the way you want.
It also helps keep the chicken moist. But it's greasy. I only use this with skinless chicken breasts, since they can handle the extra grease.
I've never actually used yogurt myself, but I know some people do. Use plain yogurt, and cut with a bit of milk if you feel it's too thick.
Like mayonnaise, yogurt helps keep the moisture in, but without being quite as greasy. It also lets you get a pretty thick coating on. It'll also give some flavor to the chicken, since it has a pretty strong flavor itself.
If you marinate the chicken for a longer time, the yogurt will tenderize it.
Some people will tell you that using buttermilk is the only way to make breaded chicken, others will say you absolutely have to use an egg wash.
But the truth is, the best way to make chicken breading is whichever way you prefer. So try different ways out until you find something that you love, and that you love to make!
Well that's it! A bit wordy, but not so hard. The only tough part is deciding what to pick! But to know what you like, you have to try it out.
And now it's time to put in all together in Part 2!