Pretzel Chicken with Mustard Dipping Sauce
Pretzel chicken is a rare combination of easy and delicious. As a result, it has been a staple dinner in my household for years. I often used to make it for my sons whenever Kevin and I went out for dinner. Kevin was always disappointed to miss pretzel chicken night, of course, and it's easy to see why; when the little pretzel chunks cook into the buttery oil, they soften up while still retaining just enough of their mouthwateringly crunchy texture. You may be tempted to skip the mustard sauce, but don't. Mustard and pretzels have always worked beautifully together, and the nuanced sweetness of the sautéed onions brings out the best of the mustard's acidity.
When I first started making pretzel chicken, I blitzed the pretzels in a food processor. But I soon discovered the superiority of larger pretzel chunks, so nowadays I place the pretzels in a plastic bag and pound them with a meat mallet. (The bag will puncture, so be careful that pretzel dust does not spill onto the floor.) The best pretzels to use in this recipe are any of the medium sized shapes as they have the best surface area to interior ratio and they smash easily. Avoid nuggets, rods and especially the big, hard, sourdough style as they are very difficult to smash. I also avoid the tiny rods as I find them too salty for this application
~1 pound 14 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cups medium sized pretzels (hammered into crumbs)
All purpose flour
Ground black pepper
Grapeseed or olive oil
Trim meat of any fat or sinew. Butterfly the breasts. (Place a chicken breast on a flat surface. While pressing down on the breast with one hand, use the other hand to slice it almost in half with a boning knife or other sharp knife. It will fan open, resulting in a thinner but wider chicken breast [if the breast is extremely large, you can slice it all of the way through so that you have two smaller breasts].) Pound chicken breasts into thin, uniformly thick pieces with the flat side of a meat mallet (I think this works best between two large pieces of plastic wrap that are rolled and sealed at the edges in order to prevent splatter). Lightly salt and pepper both sides of each breast and set aside.
Prepare 3 dishes containing:
Flour seasoned with salt and pepper
Eggs - beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
Dip chicken breasts in 1,2,3 really pressing down on the pretzel pieces in order to retain as many as possible. Rest coated chicken breasts on a sheet tray for ~15 minutes (so that the coating adheres).
In a heavy large skillet (cast iron works great here), heat ½" of oil over medium high heat. When hot, add a pat of butter (this helps the browning process and adds a buttery richness to the pretzels). Swirl the butter so that it is distributed evenly. Add chicken pieces, being careful not to overcrowd pan. When deep brown and toasty, flip. When both sides are cooked to the right color, place chicken pieces on a sheet pan and place in a 375°F oven until the insides of the breasts are 160°F ( ~10 minutes). (Note: Depending on the thickness of the breasts and the temperature of your skillet, the chicken may reach 160°F in the skillet. In this case, the oven won't be necessary.) Rest chicken on a platter (internal temperatures will continue rising to 165°F). Wipe out skillet (as pretzel bits left behind will burn during the next round of cooking) and repeat with remaining chicken breasts. Serve with mustard dipping sauce.
1 or more large yellow onions to total about 1 pound 6 ounces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter - .5 ounce
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ cup brown, spicy mustard (I like Guldens) - 2.15 ounces
Approximately 2 tablespoons boiling water
Peel and chop onion(s) and place in skillet with olive oil over low heat. Add salt. Cook until soft, stirring often (~30 minutes). Do not brown. Add one tablespoon of butter and ¼ teaspoon of sugar. Cook for another ~10 minutes until rich and buttery (but still not brown). Add to blender, together with mustard and 2 tablespoons boiling water (remember to vent the top of the blender in order to avoid heat buildup and splatter). Blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning. You may need to add another splash of hot water for the desired consistency. Serve alongside chicken for dipping.