Like many of you, I love chicken breasts and cook them often, so often, in fact, that I run the risk of getting bored. So lately I’ve been thinking about ways to jazz up chicken breasts, and I think I’ve hit on something that will hold my interest for a good long time: crispy, crunchy coatings.
But don’t worry: I’m not talking about fried chicken (which is great every now and then, especially when it’s made in someone else’s kitchen). Rather, with my method, you can bake the chicken in the oven but still enjoy all the crispness of deep-frying. And in the process, you also give the chicken breasts a great flavor boost.
Start with crisp crumbs, then slather on flavor
And now the million-dollar question: How do I get the crunchy crumb coating without frying? Here’s my secret: The crumbs are crisp before the chicken even goes into the oven.
The first step in my method is making the crispy crumbs. I cook extra-coarse homemade breadcrumbs in oil in a skillet until they’re browned and crunchy. Then, depending on the recipe, I’ll boost the crumbs’ crunch quotient by tossing them with another munchy ingredient like crumbled corn flakes or tortilla chips. And I might also mix in extra flavor with ingredients like fresh herbs, grated cheese, olives, or sun-dried tomatoes before pressing the mixture onto the chicken.
Pack on the crumbs
These crumbs are coarser than your average breadcrumbs, so it takes a little extra force to get the crumbs to adhere. My method is to pat a healthy amount of breadcrumbs on top of the chicken and then use the heel of my hand and a firm rotating motion to press the crumbs onto the chicken. Don’t shake off the excess when transferring the breasts to the baking sheet; you want to keep as many crumbs on the chicken as possible.
To get the crumbs to stick to the chicken, I forgo the traditional breading process: dipping the food into flour, then egg, then crumbs. Instead, I simply coat the breasts with a sticky, flavorful marinade, and then I pack on the crumbs. The marinade serves two purposes: One, it makes the chicken tasty. And two, the stickiness, which comes from ingredients like honey, yogurt, or marmalade, serves as the “glue” that binds the breadcrumbs to the chicken. If time allows, I suggest you let the chicken breasts sit or “marinate” in the sticky mixture for up to a day so the flavors really permeate the meat. But on busy weeknights, it’s perfectly fine to slather on the flavor right before you coat and bake the chicken.
The result is anything but blah. And if my experience is any indication, once you start using this method, you won’t have to worry about becoming bored with chicken for a long, long time.
Two ways to get a head start
Make the crumbs ahead. They’ll keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature. Or if you want to whip up a few batches of crumbs, you can store them in a zip-top bag in your freezer for a couple of months.
Marinate ahead. You can pound the chicken and immerse it in the sticky flavor bath the day before you plan to cook it. The results will be excellent because the flavors will really sink into the meat.