Recipes from 'Watermelon and Red Birds'

Recipes from 'Watermelon and Red Birds'
Photo: Scott Suchman for The Washington Post. Scott Suchman

“Even on the days that are not demarcated as holidays or holy days or special days, we should do special things for ourselves and the ones we hold dear,” Nicole A. Taylor writes in “Watermelon and Red Birds,” her cookbook dedicated to the Juneteenth holiday. This Milanese-inspired recipe, from a chapter titled “Everyday Juneteenth,” happened by accident when Taylor needed more breading but had run out of breadcrumbs, and is now what she deems “an accessible, faster version of Sunday-dinner fried chicken.”

The pretzels are ground in a food processor until roughly the same size as panko breadcrumbs, and the two combined make a crisp, crunchy coating for chicken cutlets seasoned with fish sauce. But what really makes this recipe a standout are the spices — celery seeds, cumin seeds and onion powder — mixed into the coating, offering up bursts of flavor when you bite into the chicken.

This recipe is one of the ones that Taylor keeps going back to — partly because even her toddler will eat it — and is sure to be a dish that you will want to revisit frequently, too.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

NOTES: For the best flavor, use olive oil, but you can substitute canola or vegetable oil.

If you cannot find chicken cutlets or have full-size boneless, skinless chicken breasts handy, you can thinly slice the breasts into cutlets. Use a sharp chef’s knife to carefully and evenly slice through the equator of each breast half so the meat opens like butterfly wings. Separate the halves into two cutlets and trim away any visible fat.

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken cutlets

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons fine salt, divided, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons water

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

4 ounces pretzel sticks, finely ground in a food processor (1 cup)

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

2 cups olive oil (see NOTES)

DIRECTIONS

In a medium bowl, toss the chicken cutlets with the fish sauce and set aside.

Set out three shallow bowls or baking dishes. In one, whisk the flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. In the next, whisk together the eggs and water to combine. In the third, stir together the panko, ground pretzels, the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, the celery seed, cumin seed and onion powder.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. When a bit of the breadcrumb-pretzel mixture is dropped into the pan and instantly sizzles, the oil is ready. Place a wire rack on a large, rimmed baking sheet and set it next to the stove.

Meanwhile, dredge each chicken cutlet in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess; then dip in the egg wash, letting the excess drip off; and finally dredge in the breadcrumb-pretzel mixture to coat.

Working in batches, add the chicken cutlets to the hot oil and shallow-fry until the breading is golden brown and the cutlets reach 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the wire rack and season with additional salt, as desired. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Serve hot.

Nutrition information | Variables caused by the frying make an analysis unreliable.

Adapted from “Watermelon and Red Birds” by Nicole Taylor (Simon & Schuster, 2022).

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