Friday, May 18, 2012

Quick Bites: Crunchy Chicken

You have no idea how much I wanted to love these. When Mom was feeling particularly flush (or particularly exhausted, probably) she would take us to dinner at Frederick and Nelson – a Northwest department store that turned out the lights for good in 1992. But in their glory days, they had an upscale restaurant in their Everett Mall location, and my dinner of choice was the Parmesan Crusted Chicken.

This recipe, courtesy of Sharon Cadwallader, The Herald’s “Naturally” columnist, and the October 22, 1986 issue, was right when she wrote “Almost everyone likes a piece of crunchy, moist chicken now and then.” True enough – but you won't find it here.

What I envisioned was a healthier, heartier chicken nugget – the succulent dark meat bathed in buttermilk and rolled in a robust, toasty coating, then oven-fried to perfection.  What I got was a dried-out clump of dinner that resembled the leavings in a cat’s litter box.

Clockwise from top left: Peanut Cornmeal, Almond Parmesan and Walnut Chili coatings.

So what’s the problem? On the face of it, nothing. The recipe conveniently includes three crunchy variations to choose from, and none of the ingredients are too far-fetched. I did, though, have to replenish our supply of wheat germ, much to my husband’s chagrin. (We just made it through the jar I bought when we moved into this house. Twelve years ago.)

Prep was a hassle, as it always is when dealing with a wet and dry coating. Here, you dip the chicken into buttermilk, then roll in the nut coating. Though I thought I’d love the Peanut Cornmeal coating best, my favorite variation was the Almond Parmesan – probably because the addition of the cheese made these the moistest.

I’ve lately joined the fans of chicken thighs, and here they hold their own against the more assertive spices in all variations (especially the BBQ-esque Walnut Chili).  The recipe is vague as to exactly which pieces of meat should be used. Sharon does note that chicken breasts, cut into four pieces, could be substituted. So next time, if there is a next time, I would try bone-in chicken pieces. While dark meat usually does a fine job staying juicy, these boneless thighs were dry as a, well, bone. 

But don't cry for "Naturally." The same page has some delicious-sounding pumpkin recipes that should be perfect for Halloween. And rest assured I won't need to replenish the wheat germ supply when October rolls around.

(I'd love to find the Frederick and Nelson recipe – if you remember their Parmesan Crusted Chicken, or even just the department store restaurant, drop me a note!)
Crunchy Chicken, three ways, with original newspaper in the background.

Crunchy Chicken

To prepare: Remove skin from chicken and wipe with paper towel. Dip into buttermilk to cover all of chicken, then roll in coating. Place on a foil-lined baking dish and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until chicken begins to brown, then reduce heat to 350. Cover loosely with foil and continue to bake for 30 minutes. Makes 4-5 servings.

Almond Parmesan Coating
1-1/2 cups almonds, coarsely ground in blender
3 tablespoons regular wheat germ
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 teaspoons leaf oregano
1 cup buttermilk

Mix together almonds, wheat germ, Parmesan cheese and oregano and put in shallow bowl. Pour buttermilk in shallow bowl and follow directions for preparing chicken for baking.

Walnut Chili Coating
2 cups walnut pieces, coarsely ground in blender
1 teaspoon onion powder
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1 cup buttermilk
2 large garlic cloves, pressed

Mix together walnuts, onion powder and chili powder and put in shallow bowl. Combine buttermilk and garlic in shallow bowl. Follow directions for preparing chicken for baking.

Peanut Cornmeal Coating
1-1/2 cups peanuts, coarsely ground in blender
1/3 cup coarse ground cornmeal
½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 cup buttermilk

Mix together peanuts, cornmeal, cumin, coriander and ginger and put in shallow bowl. Pour buttermilk I shallow bowl and follow directions for preparing chicken for baking.

·      My boneless, skinless thighs were easily done in 20 minutes.
·      I used a foil-covered cookie sheet.
·      For easiest prep, use one hand for “wet” ingredients and one for “dry.”
·      I used the Cuisinart to grind the nuts and combine the dry ingredients.
·      I had enough of each coating left over to do another half batch. I’m storing them in Ziploc bags in the fridge. They’ll probably stay there, along with my new jar of wheat germ, for another 12 years.

Why Don’t You …
·      Try with bone-in, skinless chicken – either dark or light meat.
·      Try marinating the pieces in the buttermilk for an hour or two, or overnight.


  1. I am going to try this but alas, I have no buttermilk. Instead I will coat the chicken with another 80's concoction - a classic mayo/mustard mix. I'll use whole grain mustard to make it a little more current. I hope that will keep the chicken moister - I'll report back!

  2. I have been using light mayo with a few bread crumbs for years, and my 70 mother in-law was a convert after one try.