I had pretty much given up on making juicy, tender chicken cutlets when I discovered Chef Marco Canora’s “flavor-pounded chicken.” Succulent and fork-tender, it is mouth-wateringly good.
After his doctor told Canora, co-owner of Hearth restaurant in New York City, that his restaurant was brilliant but his waistline, blood pressure and blood sugar levels were bad news, he transformed his diet, making vegetables and lean protein its cornerstones. Since then Canora has stuck with eating only healthy food, making sure it is delicious and varied. Challenged by keeping super-lean chicken breast from turning tough and dry, he came up with this three-step technique.
Step one is pounding cutlets to an even one-quarter inch. Step two is pounding in seasonings, pushing in their flavor better than any marinade. A meat mallet with pointed teeth on one side is ideal for both rounds of pounding.
My favorite seasoning is this Asian blend of fresh herbs, ginger and sesame oil that I chop by hand into a moist paste. (Using a food processor tears the tender green leaves, making a wet mush rather than a moist, spreadable paste.) Alternatively, Canora coats pounded cutlets with an Italian mix of garlic powder, dried oregano, Parmesan cheese and tomato paste or uses a rub combining black pepper, cinnamon, ginger and maple syrup.
The final step is heating a heavy skillet and searing the cutlets in olive oil just until they are white in the center, a quick 4 minutes. Cooking them one at a time lets you catch each cutlet when it is done just right.
Though these thinly pounded chicken cutlets may look like they take up more than AICR’s recommended one-third of your plate, they are perfect 4-ounce portions. Served with rice and your favorite vegetable stir-fry, they a make delicious, ideal meal.
Juicy Herbed Chicken Cutlets
1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
1 cup lightly packed spearmint leaves
3 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
1/2-inch slice fresh ginger, chopped
½ tsp salt
2 tsp. roasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. grated lime zest
Freshly ground pepper
2 (8-10 oz.) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
On cutting board, pile cilantro, mint, onion and ginger in a heap. Sprinkle on salt. Placing large, heavy knife over herbs and aromatics, place your fingers on front tip of blade and rock blade back and forth over them, gradually working blade around in half circle, stopping occasionally to mound chopped mixture back together. Chop until herbs look wet and are almost a coarse paste, about 4 minutes; there should be about 1/2 cup. Scoop paste into small bowl. Mix in sesame oil, lime zest and 5 grinds pepper. Set seasoning paste aside.
Cut each chicken breast crosswise, making 4 (4-5 ounce) pieces. Place one chicken piece on work surface. Place open hand gently on top of chicken. With other hand, hold knife with thin, sharp blade horizontally and use it to slit breast along one long side, taking care to cut only three-quarters of way through. Open breast like a book, set it on large piece of plastic wrap and cover with second piece of wrap. Using flat side of mallet, pound breast, working from center out, until it is evenly 1/4-inch thick; breast will about double in size. Repeat with remaining breast pieces.
Remove plastic from one side of breast and spread 1 tablespoon paste over it. Recover with plastic wrap, and using mallet, using toothy side if possible, pound breast 15 or 20 times. Flip breast over and repeat to season second side. Repeat with remaining chicken.
In heavy, medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil until it shimmers. Add a chicken breast and cook for 2 minutes. Turn and cook until it feels firm when pressed with finger at thickest part, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate and cover loosely with foil. Add 2 teaspoons of remaining oil to pan and cook second chicken breast for 3 to 4 minutes, turning breast after 2 minutes. Repeat using remaining oil and chicken breasts.
Serve chicken cutlets with favorite vegetable stir-fry and brown rice.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 264 calories, 14 g total fat (2 g saturated fat), 3 g carbohydrate, 30 g protein, 2 g dietary fiber, 386 mg sodium.