Jim Coleman | How to get the herbs to stick to the chicken

Posted: August 09, 2007

Q: Do you have some kind of crusted chicken recipes that picky kids will like? I have tried making Parmesan-crusted chicken, but the crust doesn't always stay on while cooking. I tried substituting fresh herbs for the dried ones called for in the recipe and wondered if that was the problem. I'm looking forward to your help; I enjoy your articles and read them whenever I can.

- Lila F.

A: Lila, I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but from the clues you left in your letter, it sounds like you're trying everything you can to get your children to eat chicken. I went through the same thing with my daughter.

However, I truly believe that her biggest hesitation about eating chicken was that it was always the cheapest thing on the menu. Try telling your kids that they aren't allowed to eat chicken because it costs too much money to waste on them.

I say try, because that didn't exactly work for me. My daughter still prefers lobster, sushi and caviar - she's eating right through my retirement fund.

By the way, you won't solve the mystery of why your Parmesan crust doesn't want to get cozy with your chicken by framing your fresh herbs. It's no problem to substitute fresh in place of dried herbs; just remember a few things if you do.

First, make sure you finely chop your fresh herbs. For this type of preparation, you shouldn't use whole fresh herb leaves, because they will not adhere as easily to the meat.

Also, the substitution ratio is three times the amount of fresh herbs for dried. For instance, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of dried thyme, you would use three teaspoons (or one tablespoon) of fresh chopped thyme. The supersleuths out there have figured out that the reverse is also true: if a recipe calls for fresh herbs, you can replace them with one-third the amount of dried herbs. Now that we have elminiated fresh herbs as suspects for the creeping crust crime, Dr. Watson (I mean Lila), I think I can narrow the solution to the mystery down to two things.

One theory would be that your crust doesn't have anything to hold onto; the chicken by itself is not sticky enough for the job. To keep the crust on your chicken, you need to use some sort of egg wash - either a whisked egg or egg white, possibly mixed with a bit of water or milk.

A traditional three-step process of coating the chicken in flour, then egg wash, then breadcrumbs (mixed with grated cheese, herbs, etc.) works great; or you could just use an egg wash and then the crumb mixture. Either way, you have given your chicken a fighting chance to keep its crust.

If you sauté the chicken after you use an egg wash and the crust is still making a getaway, my next deduction is that you are not getting the oil hot enough. It must be hot to sear the crust to the chicken when you add it to the pan, or the juices released from the chicken as it heats up will push the crust away.

Also, when your oil is hot enough to sear the crust, your chicken will remain moist and tender.

Let me know if your kids like these recipes, Lila. Then we'll tackle the mystery of how their vegetables keep disappearing, while the dog is getting fat. *

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