Breaded fried or baked chicken is a crispy and juicy treat that everyone loves. And it's easy to make once you know the basic steps. It's also easy to do it wrong, where the breading falls off while you're frying it. Here's how to do it right so that you have perfectly breaded chicken every time.
How to Bread Chicken
The basic procedure for the breading itself is a three-step process, although technically the first step (and it's an important one) is to pat the chicken dry as thoroughly as you can using paper towels. After that, the actual breading procedure looks like this:
- Dredge the chicken in seasoned flour. Shake off any excess.
- Dip the floured chicken in egg wash (beaten egg plus a tiny bit of milk or water).
- Toss the egg-coated chicken in seasoned breadcrumbs, coating completely.
When it comes to seasoning, you might be inclined to season the breadcrumbs but not the flour, egg wash, or the chicken itself. But this is a mistake. Any flavorings (like herbs or spices) that you add to the breading are likely to cook off or burn in the hot oil. That's why it's important to season the chicken as well as the flour and the egg wash.
The breading process is a bit of an assembly line, and it's a good idea to use one hand for the dredging and the other hand for the egg wash and tossing in the breadcrumbs. Otherwise, your flour fingers will get eggy and the whole thing gets rather messy. And depending on whether you're left or right-handed, it makes a difference which direction you set up the dishes with the various ingredients.
Once your chicken is coated and breaded, return it to the fridge and let it chill for 15 to 30 minutes. This gives the breading a chance to set. Then, remove from the fridge, let it come to room temperature for 15 minutes, then fry in hot oil until golden brown, drain on paper towels, and then serve.
Why Breading Falls Off
One of the most common problems home cooks have with breaded chicken is that their breading comes off during cooking. There are a few reasons that can happen:
- Your chicken isn't dry enough. If your chicken is too wet to begin with, the starch layer won't adhere properly. So dry your chicken thoroughly before breading it, using multiple paper towels if you have to.
- You didn't dredge your item in flour before applying the egg wash. The reason flour is so essential to breaded chicken is that the starch in the flour absorbs moisture from both the chicken and the egg, forming a bond between both. Chicken coated in egg wash without flour will tend to slide off and take the breading with it.
- You didn't chill the breaded chicken before frying. This step is quite important, as it allows the moisture from the chicken and from the egg wash to be absorbed by the flour. It quite literally "sets" the glue. It only takes 15 to 30 minutes in the fridge before cooking the chicken.
More Breading Tips
While chilling breaded chicken before frying can help the breading adhere, you don't want to cook chicken that is too cold, either. Let it sit at room temperature for another 15 to 30 before you cook it. If your chicken is cold, it may be undercooked when the breading is fully browned (this isn't as much of a problem for thin cutlets). The main issue is that adding ice-cold chicken to hot oil will immediately cool off the oil, causing the chicken to come out greasy instead of crispy.
If you're tempted to dredge chicken in flour ahead of time to shorten the prep time, it's not recommended. Sitting overnight in the fridge can allow the moisture from the chicken to overwhelm the starch layer, causing it to come unstuck when you cook it. It doesn't save much time anyway, and you can do all of the messy steps at once for easier clean-up.
For extra sticking power, try adding a tiny bit of cornstarch to the flour to make it adhere even better—8 to 10 percent by weight relative to the flour. Tapioca starch or potato starch will also work. And you can substitute rice flour for the usual wheat flour.
Since your goal is crispy chicken, it stands to reason that you should start with a breading that is already crispy. That's why the best ingredient to use for your breading is Japanese-style breadcrumbs known as panko. Panko is really more of a flake than a crumb, and it's been dried or lightly toasted to give it extra crunch. If you substitute ordinary breadcrumbs, even toasted ones, they won't give the same crunch.
Panko (or panko-style breadcrumbs) are pretty common in grocery stores, but if you can't find them, try crushed breakfast cereal like Wheaties or Corn Flakes or crushed pretzels or crackers. Just give them a whir in a food processor until they're crumbs but not a fine powder.
A lot of people buy cartons of egg whites, and if you happen to have this product, it will work just as well as whole beaten eggs. To a certain extent, the egg wash is just glue, so you could use anything sticky or thick as a substitute when breading chicken, like mayonnaise or heavy cream. Mustard will also work, and it adds a level of flavor. But none of these substitutes will work quite as well as egg, because unlike these other ingredients, when the egg cooks, the proteins coagulate which hardens the "glue."
How to Keep Breaded Chicken Crispy
Once you've breaded your chicken and starting frying it, you'll want to keep it hot and crisp until all of the chicken is done and you're ready to serve. Place a cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet and place the finished breaded chicken on top. Store in a warm oven (about 200 F) until ready to serve. For the crispiest results, serve breaded chicken as soon as possible after cooking.