I never really understood why people like to pound chicken breasts to flatten them before cooking. I guess it's supposed to make the meat more tender and possibly allow them to cook faster. I suppose that works well, especially if you are planning to fry the chicken in a stove-top skillet, but I generally prefer to bake my chicken in the oven.
Nevertheless, I had a great recipe for almond-crusted chicken that called for flattening the breasts during preparation. So, like most cooks taking on a new recipe, I decided to follow blindly and do what it suggested.
The recipe called for placing the individual breasts between pieces of thick plastic wrap before beating them with the flat edge of a meat mallet. OK, first I have to admit, I don't even own a meat mallet. Second, I feared the plastic wrap was far too thin to survive a beating that I envisioned would leave me with a splattering of a big juicy mess. I decided to improvise.
Almond-crusted chicken is a juicy, crispy dish that can be created with or without flattening the meat. Whatever you decide, this easy recipe will cook up nicely in the oven.
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda J. Linert
Instead I slipped the breasts one-by-one into a nice thick plastic freezer bag, and perused my kitchen utensil drawer before making my decision. ... I proceeded to flatten them with repeated pounding of, well, a rolling pin.
Certainly, the chicken probably would have ended up more flattened had I used a traditional mallet. Still, the plan worked out well enough.
I proceeded with the recipe as spelled out. The chicken cooked up nicely, but in the end, here are a few tips I can offer.
4 Skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons milk
1/2 cup almonds, chopped to preference
1/2 cup bread crumbs (panko works best)
Non-stick cooking spray
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
(This step is optional) One at a time, place chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap or in a zippered plastic bag. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, pound chicken to 1/4- or 1/2-inch thickness.
In a large, shallow bowl, mix egg and milk.
On a separate plate, combine chopped almonds, bread crumbs, salt and pepper.
Sprinkle chicken breasts with ground ginger and poultry seasoning.
Dip chicken into egg mixture, then transfer to almond/bread crumb mixture. Turn chicken to coat well on both sides.
Spray a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place chicken in the baking dish. If possible, avoid allowing the pieces to touch.
Bake covered in a pre-heated 375-degree oven for about 50 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Avoid overcooking. Uncover to cook for the final 15 minutes to allow poultry to brown and get a little crispy.
First, don't overcook. There is a fine line between a bit of a crispness to the panko / almost crust and a hard coating on an overcooked, dry piece of poultry.
Check the dish often, but don't feel the need to turn the food while it's cooking. Cooking on one side will do the trick just fine.
I covered the baking dish with a simple loose-fitting piece of foil. I suggest you remove the covering for the last 15 minutes or so to allow the poultry to brown a bit and get a little crispy.
Finally, you (not the recipe) should decide whether or not to flatten the meat before cooking. This dish was delicious, but the next time I make it, I'll probably opt instead against pounding the meat. I prefer my poultry plump and juicy. I don't think pounding the meat made it any more tender and, in fact, I think it took away much of the juiciness.