There are few foods more perfectly satisfying than a crispy cutlet. Whether they’re made from pork, chicken, or veal, cutlets are pure comfort food, but at Folk in Nashville, the classic gets a major upgrade courtesy of chef Philip Krajeck. Inspired by the super-thin cutlets common in Milan, Krajeck knew he wanted some kind of Milanese on the menu before the restaurant even opened in 2012, but he also didn’t want to enter the city’s already crowded field of hot chicken purveyors.
“It’s fried chicken, but it’s not hot chicken,” Krajeck says. “It’s just delicious. We’re not trying to reinvent any wheels here; we’re just trying to do something that fits in with everything else that we’re doing, just trusting that the ingredients are all responsibly sourced and super-seasonal.” At Folk, Krajeck takes a fully deboned half-chicken, sourced from a local farmer, and pounds it super-thin. For Eater readers, he adapted the recipe to make use of a chicken thigh, which is much more accessible for those of us who don’t have a farmer on call.
What comes next, though, is what really gives Krajeck’s riff an edge over the classic cutlet. Breading is obviously an essential part of the cutlet-making process, and Krajeck learned a tip from Nick Curtola, the chef at the Four Horsemen in Brooklyn, that not only gave his cutlets an extra-sturdy exterior but also solved a kitchen problem. “When you combine the egg whites with cornstarch, it just makes for an extra crispy and crunchy cutlet,” Krajeck explains. And because “egg whites are something that you always have too many of in a restaurant,” he says, “it was a really good utilization of the product, and you’re not wasting anything.”
That extra-sturdy cutlet breading also stands up to any topping, and in this case, it’s a spring-y cucumber salad with a Caesar salad-inspired dressing full of anchovies and garlic. At Folk, Krajeck uses only jade cucumbers, which he says are especially crisp and refreshing, and sometimes garnishes the dish with boquerones or smoky trout roe for a little extra oomph. “I’m kind of hating myself for saying this, but it’s like an upside-down chicken Caesar salad,” he says. “Who doesn’t like that? It hits all the fresh notes that you want to pair with the fried chicken, but it’s also got a layer of umami from the garlic and the anchovies. It’s the kind of dish that just makes people happy.”
Chicken Milanese With Cucumber Caesar Recipe
For the Caesar dressing:
2 egg yolks
4 anchovy filets
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1½ tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
⅓ cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
For the cucumber salad garnish:
3 cups English cucumber, sliced ⅛-inch thick
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Half of the Caesar dressing
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
For the Milanese:
4 chicken thighs, deboned
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 egg whites
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
½ tablespoon piment d’Espelette
3 cups canola oil, for frying
2 lemons, halved, for serving
Maldon sea salt, for serving
Parmesan, for serving (optional)
Trout roe, for serving (optional)
Boquerones (white anchovies), for serving (optional)
First, make the Caesar dressing:
Step 1: Using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender, combine the egg yolks, anchovy, garlic, vinegar, and lemon juice, and process until smooth. Slowly add the grapeseed and olive oils and blend until the dressing is thick. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Divide in half, and set aside until ready to use. Reserve the remaining half for another use.
Next, prepare the cucumber salad garnish:
Step 1: Toss the cucumber slices with 1 teaspoon of sea salt, then place them in a colander for 20 minutes to release excess water. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Then make the Milanese:
Step 1: Place each chicken thigh between two large pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, pound each cutlet to ¼-inch thickness. Set aside.
Step 2: Whisk together the cornstarch and egg whites.
Step 3: Put the flour, egg white-cornstarch mixture, and panko in three separate shallow containers and set them in a row.
Step 4: Season the chicken thighs with salt and piment d’Espelette. Dredge them in the flour, just enough to coat. Dip each cutlet in the egg white-cornstarch mixture, then in the panko, pressing to help the crumbs adhere. Once the cutlets are breaded, let them sit for at least 15 minutes, so the panko can hydrate and fully adhere to the protein. The chicken can be prepped up to 12 hours in advance and stored in the fridge.
Step 5: Heat the oil to 325 degrees in a wide heavy-bottomed pot or large cast-iron chicken fryer.
Step 6: Preheat the oven to 170 to 200 degrees. (You want it hot enough to keep the chicken warm once it’s been fried.)
Step 7: Fry the chicken one piece at a time, flipping when the underside turns a golden brown, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Continue cooking until the second side is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thickest portion reads 165 degrees. Transfer the chicken to a wire rack set over a rimmed cookie sheet and place in the oven to stay warm. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken thighs.
Step 8: Finish the cucumber salad garnish: While the chicken is frying, toss the salted cucumber with the lemon juice and reserved dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and lots of coarsely cracked black pepper. The cucumbers should be slightly acidic and quite saucy in order to balance out the fried chicken.
Step 9: To serve, place the cutlets on individual plates and evenly divide the cucumber salad among them. Generously grate fresh Parmesan on top of the salad and dot with trout roe or boquerones. Serve with half a lemon. Sprinkle with Maldon salt.
Louiie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer, and stylist living in Las Vegas.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa