It has been almost a year since I told you that I don’t like boneless, skinless chicken cutlets, I never had and I never would. Furthermore, I did not understand the American obsession with them (in sandwiches! on pizza! in pasta! on salad! in 54-packs at Costco!). “They have the texture and excitement of pressed sawdust,” I believe were my exact words, and even though I knew I was in a distinct minority on this, I knew I couldn’t rest soundly until I got it off my chest.
But The People wouldn’t let it go. “You must try brining,” they whispered into my inbox, “brining is much better,” they said in the comments, “brining will change you life,” one went as far as to say, at which point I stopped listening entirely. Why should I have to work so hard to make something taste good? Obviously, it is not inherently tasty, or it wouldn’t require all of these extra steps and seasonings. Pressed sawdust, I said; case closed.
I know what you’re thinking right now: Poor Alex. Does he really have to put up with this every single day? Didn’t he, like, live on chicken cutlets when he was single? Can’t she cut them a little slack? And you’d be right: I really am impossible. But if we flash forward to last week’s pork chops, you’ll notice a little step that got squeezed quietly in there: the b-word. The other one. And what it resulted in were the juiciest pork chops I have ever eaten; I could scarcely believe my mouth, and soon enough, there I was, offering to try the same with chicken cutlets. To be chopped into a salad. As if there were not two things I detest more.
Caesar salads are a perfect example of one of those items that always disappoint me when I order them somewhere, so I decided to take them into my own hands a few years ago, my very serious hands. I make the dressing and croutons, I select only the best-looking leaves of Romaine heart, I freshly grate the best Parmesan we have on hand, all the while Alex baffles that a salad his deli can put together in one minute takes me so long. With my recently piqued interest in well-rounded meals, I’ve been looking for a protein to add to it. I tried a chopped hardboiled egg last week but, eh, it just didn’t work for me, which brings us back around to that brined cutlet.
We soaked two chicken cutlets in a half-batch of brine for 30 minutes, and seasoned them before frying them in a pan, only one of the dryest of all dry preparations and seriously? Have you waited long enough for me to tell you this? Brining is a whole new world. I never knew that chicken could be so juicy. However, I’m not going to lie–moisture is not flavor, and these still did not have the flavor profile of darker meat. But it was a start, and a very promising one at that.
Chicken Cutlet Brine
Enough for up to 1.5 pounds of cutlets.
Dissolve 2 tablespoons table salt in 2 cups water in medium container or gallon-sized zipper-lock bag. Submerge cutlets, cover with plastic wrap or seal bag, and refrigerate 30 minutes. Rinse cutlets under cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels and prepare as you normally would.
Caesar Salad Dressing
Because I created this for me, me, me, my Caesar salad dressing is raw egg and anchovy optional, and I swear you won’t miss them. But if this offends the Caesar purist in you, I’ve given options for both. Now can’t we all get along?
2 tablespoons mayonnaise – or – 1 egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, plus a drop or two more, to taste
1 oil-packed anchovy fillet, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Whisk all except last together. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. (Dressing can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and rewhisk before using.)