Chicken cutlets get a lot of credit. They can be turned into a sandwich, chopped up and sprinkled on a salad, or broiled with mozzarella and tomato sauce for a quickie chick-Parm. But what if you don’t eat chicken? Or what if you do eat chicken but don’t want it?
That’s where this crispy eggplant comes in. With a crispy crust and juicy center, these cutlets are just as addictive as their chicken counterparts.
Of course, we already know that eggplant loves being breaded and fried. Such is the foundation for classic eggplant Parmesan, where eggplant slices are dredged in flour, egg, and crumbs. But after you do all that work, you have to do a lot more work (simmering tomato sauce, grating cheese, baking, cooling) to complete the casserole. And come dinnertime, that crispy-crunchy eggplant is crispy-crunchy no more.
I thought about this a lot a couple months ago. My husband and I were having some friends over and wanted to make eggplant Parmesan. Which means we spent the whole day, well, making eggplant Parmesan. The end result? Great. But what we couldn’t get over was that the pre-Parm, just-fried eggplant cutlets were even greater.
These eggplant cutlets take a few tips from eggplant Parm (lots of, ahem, Parmesan) and the rest from KFC-style fried chicken (black pepper, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, hot paprika). Salting the eggplant slabs beforehand ensures a creamy interior and panko breadcrumbs keep things extra-crispy.
Between you and me? I’d eat an eggplant’s worth of these with a glass of red wine and call it dinner. But, just like chicken cutlets, there are a million and one ways to show them off. Eat with a couple sides (like sautéed greens and potato salad). Turn into a sandwich. Chop up and add to a salad. Cover in tomato sauce and mozzarella and broil until bubbly. Dip in ranch dressing like an oversized nugget. You can’t go wrong. Here are 12 ideas to get you started:
- Sourdough bread with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo
- Ciabatta with mozzarella, roasted peppers, and pesto
- Baguette with spicy mayo, pickled vegetables, and cilantro
- Caesar: romaine, white anchovies, capers, topped with chopped cutlets
- Milanese: arugula, olive oil, lemon juice, Parmesan, all piled atop the hot cutlets
- Cobb: swap out the chicken and use eggplant cutlets instead
- Ranch: iceberg, carrots, radishes, and celery, topped with chopped cutlets
- Katsu-style: white rice, tonkatsu sauce, lemon wedges
- Rigatoni with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs, topped with chopped cutlets
- Top with tomato sauce and mozzarella, broil, blanket with grated Parm
- Cover in a mushroom-Marsala sauce and serve atop buttery spaghetti
- Serve with coleslaw and bacon-sautéed kale or collards —Emma Laperruque
- Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- Serves 2
kosher salt, plus more to taste
freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
- Cut off the top of the eggplant. Use a peeler to remove the skin. Cut lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices. Sprinkle both sides of each eggplant slice with salt. Line a rimmed sheet pan with paper or kitchen towels. Add the eggplant slices in a single layer. Top with another layer of kitchen or paper towels. Set another sheet pan on top. Let the eggplant slices hang out (aka, drain their excess water) for 30 to 60 minutes; the full hour is preferable, but not necessary if you’re pressed for time.
- Meanwhile, prepare the dredging station: Add the flour to a shallow bowl or rimmed plate; season with a pinch of salt. Add the eggs to a shallow bowl; season with a pinch of salt and whisk with a fork until smooth. Add the Parmesan to a food processor and process until a fine meal forms. Add the panko, black pepper, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, hot paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the food processor, then pulse until combined. Try a bit and adjust the seasoning to taste.
- Combine the oils in a large cast-iron skillet. Set on the stove over medium-high heat.
- While the oil is heating up, bread the eggplant slices: Dry each one with a paper or kitchen towel. Dredge both sides in flour, then egg, then seasoned panko. Set on a separate plate.
- To test if the oil is hot enough, add a panko crumb to the pan. It should immediately sizzle—not sink to the bottom, not burn. When it’s hot enough, add a couple breaded eggplant slices (don’t overcrowd or they won’t brown properly). Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until deeply golden brown.
- Transfer the just-fried eggplant to a paper towel–lined plate to sop up any extra grease, then transfer to a wire rack to stay crispy.
- Fry the remaining eggplant slices in the same way. These are best served hot.