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Originally published September 9, 2012 at 5:02 AM | Page modified September 10, 2012 at 8:49 AM

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How to make a perfect panko-crusted chicken

Schnitzel, katsu chicken, by any name, this foolproof dinner is a family favorite. It's also economical because it makes a little chicken go a long way.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Breaded chicken cutlet, or schnitzel, as it's known in my house, is a family favorite, and I like it because it's quick to prepare, stretches a little chicken a long way, and makes for a versatile meal because I can serve it simply or dress it up.

A good schnitzel is well-seasoned, crisp on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside. It's easy to achieve with a few simple steps. The only trick is to not skip any of them.

Use skinless, boneless chicken breasts, and assume 4 to 6 ounces per serving. Remove the tenders if they're there, then use a sharp knife, held flat, to carefully cut each breast in half horizontally. You want to end up with two large flat pieces and a tender from each breast.

To tenderize, put one or two pieces at a time in a large freezer Ziploc-type bag (to contain the mess) and use the smooth side of a meat mallet to pound the chicken until it is no more than ¼-inch thick.

Pounding the meat breaks up the muscle fibers, resulting in tender chicken every time. If you don't have a mallet, you can use the back of a small frying pan, but you can spend less than $10 on a mallet and you'll have it forever. Season both sides of each cutlet with kosher salt and pepper.

Next, set up three dipping stations (these quantities are for 1 pound of chicken): Spread out a scant ¼ cup flour on a dinner plate; use a fork to whisk 1 egg in a small, wide bowl; and pour about 1 cup panko on another dinner plate. I like to use panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, available in any supermarket's Asian aisle) to make a really crispy crust, but you can use store-bought or homemade breadcrumbs instead.

Dip each piece of chicken into the flour, first one side and then the other, and shake it to remove the excess. Repeat with the eggwash. Last, lay the chicken on the panko and press it gently to get the panko to adhere, then turn it over and repeat. Make sure it is well covered. You might be tempted to skip the flour dip, but don't — it gives the egg something to stick to. An even egg coating makes an even crust, which will help to ensure juicy chicken.

Heat 1/8- to ¼-inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully add a layer of chicken pieces. The chicken should sizzle as soon as it touches the oil.

Use tongs to lift a corner from time to time to check the color. When the breasts are golden, turn them over. If it's browning too quickly, lower the heat (or the chicken will be raw in the middle). If it's taking too long, increase the heat (or the crust will be oily and the chicken, dry). As the pieces finish cooking through, drain them on paper towel.

Serve with a lemon wedge, or go fancy by dressing a big handful of arugula and halved cherry tomatoes with good extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and serve the salad right on top of the chicken. Or spread the cutlets with marinara sauce, top with shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan, and pop them under the broiler for chicken Parmesan.

By using panko, what you've really made is katsu chicken — just drizzle with tonkatsu sauce (from the Asian aisle or this recipe from Saveur: www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Tonkatsu-Sauce) and serve with sticky rice and boiled edamame.

Leora Y. Bloom is the author of "Washington Food Artisans: Farm Stories and Chef Recipes."

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