Is Your Chicken Breast Game in Need of a Boost?

February  9, 2017

Mad Genius Tips, a new cookbook by Justin Chapple and the editors of Food & Wine, is filled with clever hacks employing common household items—your oven, scissors, dental floss, cooling racks—and recipes to go along with each.  

No food processor? No cherry pitter? No meat mallet? No rolling pin? No problem: A wine bottle can do it all. Take, for example, this recipe for pepita-crusted chicken cutlets, which calls for toasting pumpkin seeds briefly in the oven and using a wine bottle (in place of a food processor or a spice grinder) to pulverize them: Simply transfer the seeds to a resealable plastic bag, then smash with a wine bottle until they're crushed.

The genius hack, which can be used for peppercorns as well, works beautifully. And the recipe itself has a few unexpected bonuses as well: The addition of cumin, cayenne, and ancho chile powder, whose smoky flavors so nicely complement the toasted pepitas, won me over, a card-carrying breasts-are-boring member. And the use of seeds in place of bread crumbs, moreover, makes this preparation safe for both the gluten- and nut-free crowds.

Mid-crush and the cutlets all cozied and seedy. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Making a seed or nut crust is nothing new, but if you don’t have a gluten allergy or you adore panko, you may not have found a reason to branch out. But in addition to a nutty, toasty flavor, seeds add a welcomed layer of texture and, like bread crumbs, protect the meat, keeping it juicy as it cooks. If your chicken breast game is in need of a boost, look no further than your pantry of seeds—this one’s not for the birds.     

A few tips:

  • Other seeds: Sunflower seeds could be used in place of the pepitas, or you could use a mix of sesame, flax, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin, millet, chia, etc. Tip: Don’t toast the seeds too much. They should take on very little color during their brief time in the oven—you want to toast them halfway, as they’ll toast fully in the sauté pan when the chicken cooks.

  • The breading process: Typically, a dredging of flour and dipping into beaten eggs precedes the final crumb coating. Here, I replace the flour-egg mix with a blend of mustard and mayonnaise. If the idea of mayonnaise is off-putting to you, you can certainly employ the traditional three-pan egg-flour-crumb station. Another trick, which eliminates one pan, is to stir the flour with the egg and a little bit of water. This is the ratio I typically use: 2 eggs, 1/4 cup flour, and 2 tablespoons water.

  • To finish: A simple squeeze of lemon will suffice here, but if you’re looking for something more, an orange salsa, which requires just a bit of extra chopping, pairs particularly well with the nutty, toasty flavors of the pumpkin-seed crust. Roasted vegetables or a simple salad would also work well here.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Do you have another favorite alternative to bread crumbs? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


rikasper March 14, 2017
how did you get all the pepitas to stay on?? half of mine fell off! still tasted great and i tossed the pepitas that fell off on top of a salad!
Alexandra S. March 14, 2017
Lots do get lost. What did you use as the glue? Egg or mayo/mustard? Also hieeee. And great idea re salad :)
rikasper March 14, 2017
I did a combo of mayo, mustard and Greek yogurt! I still loved them but not nearly as perfect looking as yours! I put them on top of a kale, cabbage, radish slaw with a soy ginger scallion dressing.
Alexandra S. March 14, 2017
Yum! Sounds so good! xo
linda February 10, 2017
I am so smiling now. My Mom always used an old fashioned green glass 7 up bottle she used exclusively for rolling dough. I still have that bottle, which brings back warm mom was an amazing cook and baker! She had those genius tips 50 years ago!
Alexandra S. February 10, 2017
Oh, I love it—what a treasure!
Nina L. February 10, 2017
I use a mix of coconut flour & gram flour & seasoning including fresh chopped parsley. Will add ground pumpkin seeds now as they are so good for you.
Alexandra S. February 10, 2017
Nice! Love the idea of some fresh herbs here
The T. February 9, 2017
This is a great "breading" concept adaptable to boneless pork & turkey cutlets as well as fish filets. And, the best part about using plastic bag for crushing seeds is no clean up! *** rolling pins do the job too if there's no wine bottles left!
Alexandra S. February 9, 2017
So true! The easy clean-up is key.