Chicken is a marvellously versatile protein. I love it in pie. I love it in a casserole. I love it on the braai. Having said that, I am really just not a chicken breast kind of girl. For starters there’s the texture that, unlike that of the breast or thigh, is stringy. And it tends to be dry, like Cape Town the last three years.
My solution? Breast needs something done to it, like stuffing it with herbs and garlic butter Kiev-style, or rolling it in a pancetta-blanket. But probably my favourite fix for this less-loved part of the chicken is to turn it into schnitzel – seriously thin and super crusty in a coating of golden crumbs. There are secrets to making the perfect chicken schnitzel, and I share them below. I love it with just a squeeze of lemon, but if you want to turn this quick dinner wonder into something approximating dinner party fare, why not whip up an adult cheese sauce? Channel the 70s and turn to that cult classic, the fondue, for inspiration.
All you need is…
FOR THE 3-CHEESE FONDUE SAUCE
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
1½ cups dry white wine
1 heaped tbs cornflour, dissolved in 3tbs water
1 cup grated Emmenthaler cheese
½ cup grated strong, mature cheddar cheese
½ cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
pinch of nutmeg
1 tbs brandy
FOR THE SCHNITZEL
4 large free range chicken breasts (without skin)
4 tbs cake plain flour
third of a teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 jumbo free range egg, whisked with 2 tbs milk
1 x 200g packet Kellogg’s Cornflakes Crumbs
vegetable oil, for frying
Put the wine in a thick-bottomed saucepan along with the garlic and cornflour. Stir with a whisk over medium heat until it thickens, but do not bring it to a boil, a very mild simmer is what you are looking for. Stir in the cheese a handful at a time and allow to completely melt before the next lot is added. Take great care not to burn it, low heat is called for. Once all the cheese has been added, fish out the garlic, stir in the brandy and nutmeg and you’re done.
For perfect schnitzels, you want them as thin as possible. Why? Well, that’s the way it’s done in the heimat of schnitzel, Vienna. But, more importantly, the meat needs to be real thin so it cooks real fast. By the time your crumbs are golden, the meat should be cooked through – too thick and it will still be raw inside or the crumb coating will be too dark.
Now, the secret to getting a real large, real thin schnitzel is not hammering the living daylights out of it. No, the secret is a sharp chef’s knife, because we are going to butterfly the little darlings. Simple slice the breasts through the middle lengthwise, but stop 1,5cm short of the end so you have a solid ‘hinge’. Now flip the flesh open like the pages of a book and you have a larger, intact, thinner breast – ergo, you’ve butterflied it. (Well done, you!)
Line your wooden chopping board with a sheet of cling film, place a breast on top and cover with another sheet of cling film. (Why? Two reasons: 1) From a hygiene perspective I dislike hammering meat into wood. But more importantly 2) there is friction between the meat and wood. If you do not line it with cling film, the meat will be driven into the wood, stick and tear when you try to pick it up.) Use a rolling pin or the bottom of a saucepan to flatten the chicken to about 5mm. Don’t hit massively hard, you want to gently coax it into releaxing and spreading.
Dip breasts into flour mixed with salt and cayenne (if using) and shake off excess. Dip into egg, then into crumbs. Press the crumbs into the meat a bit to ensure you have a decently even coating. Shallow fry breasts one at a time in 3cm hot vegetable oil. It takes only about a minute per breast. Drain on kitchen towel and serve right away.