The last night of my recent visit to Florida, we found the only really, truly terrible restaurant in the City of Apalachicola. I will not utter its name (just avoid restaurants with the word “wheel” in their names and you’ll be safe) but I will say that my father and I had the worse fried fish in the history of time, and that we were both incapable of eating it once the heavy breading fell off to reveal not the firm, fresh white Grouper we were expecting, but something grey-ish and slimy and most unappetizing. Honestly, I would have been thrilled to see the Gorton’s Fisherman and/or Mrs. Paul at any point during our meal. They apparently knew enough to eat at home.
The strangest thing about the icky fried fish at the Restaurant-that-Cannot-be-Named was that Southerners are usually so good at breading stuff. They bread and fry everything from chicken to tomatoes, and I would not be at all surprised to be served breaded and fried potatoes or beans. I think breading should stay on fried things, if one is going to eat them; if you end up with an empty sleeve of crust and a tiny, damp piece of protein, you might as well just do the right thing and order it broiled or baked to begin with.
In my own life as a cook, I have stumbled upon a somewhat time consuming, but highly effective method of breading chicken, which I have also applied to pork cutlets and fish (although I skip the pounding step when I make fish). I adapted it from “Cuisine at Home” magazine, and the clipping is so tattered and egg-covered that I am not sure when it was published. Here it is, and may you never serve anyone something as appalling as the Alleged Fried Grouper of Apalachicola.
- 4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken (whole breast halves are too large; I use two breast halves and cut in half lengthwise)
- 2 egg whites
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 cup dry, coarse bread crumbs (I like Panko, but also use plain old dried crumbs from a canister).
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley (or another fresh or dried herb)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- zest of 1 lemon, minced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 . Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Trim excess fat from chicken breasts, and pound, one at a time, in a closed, zip-top plastic bag with a bit of water inside to prevent sticking. Pound to about 1/2 inch thickness, and be gentle to avoid creating holes or excessively thin spots.
3. Blend egg whites, cornstarch and lemon juice in a wide, shallow dish and set aside.
4. Combine bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper and lemon zest in a second wide shallow dish (I actually use a paper plate).
5. Spray a cooling rack with non-stick spray, and place over paper towels, plastic wrap or waxed paper.
6. One at a time, dip both sides of each chicken piece in the egg mixture, then in the crumb mixture, pressing firmly to coat. Place chicken on rack.
7. Let chicken pieces rest on the rack at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, to set the crust.
8. Heat oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
9. Saute chicken on one side for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.
10. Carefully turn chicken with a spatula and put skillet in oven to finish cooking, which should take about 8 minutes.