This is a recipe most easily prepared with two people, although my mom made these weekly by herself (I watched, unhelpfully). It produces a lot of dishes, but these cutlets are fantastic cold, on a sandwich, or chopped up in any dish you would want to have chicken in. So, it’s a good opportunity to make a ton and eat them throughout the week.
Begin by prepping the chicken. Estimate about 1 chicken breast per person. Slice each breast in half to make two pieces the same size, but half as thick. Slice each of these in half lengths, so each piece is roughly the same length and width. Flatten each piece individually by placing it under a piece of plastic wrap and pounding it with a mallet as thin as possible without it falling apart (roughly ¼”, but you can get even thinner if you are careful). Note: do not pound the chicken directly on top of a stone countertop, like granite or marble. Regardless of your surface, it is best to buffer it by placing a towel on the counter, then a plastic cutting board on top, then the chicken with the plastic wrap. The heavier the mallet and the longer the handle, the easier it is to pound. Set the chicken aside.
Place a heavy skillet, as large as possible, on the stove, with about ¼” of a neutral-flavored oil like vegetable oil. Turn on the flame to a medium heat.
It is best to bread the chicken immediately before it goes into the oil, so if you can, put your breading ingredients right next to the stove. Otherwise, bread all the chicken first, but fry immediately.
Set up, in a line, the flattened chicken, a bowl with thoroughly beaten egg (about 1 egg per 2 chicken breasts) seasoned with a pinch each of salt and pepper, and a dish with bread crumbs (about 1 ½ cups per 2 chicken breasts). I find that the best mix of bread crumbs is something coarse, like panko or matzo meal, with something fine like regular italian bread crumbs or even flour. Season 1 ½ cups of bread crumbs with 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, and 1 tbsp total of dried herbs, such as thyme, basil, oregano, and marjoram. Rosemary is a little too woody in texture for this, even fresh. Pre-seasoned bread crumbs are fine. Keep extra eggs and bread crumbs on hand to replenish as you go.
To bread, dunk the chicken in the egg and wipe off the excess, then place in the bread crumbs. For the best coverage, press some bread crumbs onto the top side of the chicken, then flip it over and do the same to the other side. If you are going directly from breading to frying, a 10” skillet should fit about 2 pieces at a time, so prepare both and put them in the oil at the same time.
The oil should sizzle immediately when the chicken goes in. Throw in a little flour or water to test. The browner the crust gets, the better, so you may need to turn up the heat a little, or turn it down if it is browning too quickly. Because of how thin these pieces are, they cook very quickly on the inside, approximately 2 minutes per side. When pieces are done, move them off to paper towels to drain. Some of the breading will be left in the pan and eventually burn as you cook, and the oil itself can also take on a burnt taste after many batches. You’ll know the oil is getting old if there is a lot of foam on the surface and many black spots in the oil. Plan on changing the oil and wiping out the pan every 4 batches or so, and remember to add more oil if it looks low.
For chicken parmesan:
Cut the chicken only to reduce the thickness, and do not pound. Bread as before and fry. Once the chicken is fried, place in a dish with the bottom covered in a flavorful tomato sauce. Top each piece with a spoonful of the sauce, and a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan, enough to cover. Broil until the cheese bubbles and browns, and serve over pasta.