It's disappointing to find that you're out of an important ingredient needed to make the dinner you've been thinking about all day, such as the breadcrumbs you need for breaded chicken. Before heading out to the store or reconsidering your plans, though, scour your pantry for alternatives. Croutons, seasoned or plain, store-bought or homemade, are an excellent substitute for breadcrumbs, as are the bread cubes sold as boxed stuffing or dressing. They are essentially the same thing -- dried pieces of bread -- just larger. Breaking croutons down into crumbs only adds a few minutes to the preparation time, and the final results will be just as delicious.
Making Breadcrumbs From Croutons
To turn croutons into breadcrumbs, you simply need to crush them. The fastest way is to use a food processor fitted with a steel blade and blitz for just a few seconds until the crumb is as fine as you desire. Alternatively, place the croutons in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin or wooden kitchen mallet. A can of food makes a good make-shift rolling pin. Keep working until the croutons have broken down into evenly sized crumbs. For very fine breadcrumbs, push the the crushed croutons through a metal sieve with a spoon. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a shallow dish or plate ready for breading the chicken. If the croutons you used were not already seasoned, consider flavoring them with herbs, spices, lemon zest, powdered garlic or Parmesan cheese. Check the salt content on the croutons' packaging before adding extra.
Preparing the Chicken
Any cut of chicken can be breaded, with or without bones and skin, although removing the skin cuts down on the fat content of the chicken. Boneless breasts and thighs can be gently pounded with a wooden kitchen mallet to make thinner pieces that have a greater surface area for breading and cook more quickly. You can also slice boneless cuts into strips or pieces. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and dredge with flour, either by rolling the pieces around on a floured plate or shaking them in a paper bag with flour. If you are using unseasoned breadcrumbs, season the flour with salt and pepper first. Prepare a bowl or shallow plate of lightly beaten egg. Dip the floured chicken into the egg, making sure the pieces are fully covered and letting the excess drip off, then roll them in the breadcrumbs. Make sure the chicken pieces are fully coated with crumbs. You can cook them immediately, or refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to let the breading set.
Cooking Breaded Chicken
Breaded chicken can be pan-fried, deep-fried or baked in the oven. The cooking time ranges from about five minutes per side when frying pounded, boneless pieces to about 30 to 45 minutes in the oven for larger cuts on-the-bone. Aim for a golden, crisp crumb. Use a food thermometer to make sure the chicken has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit all the way through, or cut into a larger piece and make sure the flesh is white and opaque, and the juices run clear.
Other Breadcrumb Alternatives
If you're out of packaged breadcrumbs but have a slice or two of stale bread, or perhaps some old hot dog buns, make your own breadcrumbs in a matter of minutes. Break the bread into small pieces into a food processor and blitz until you have a fine crumb. For dried breadcrumbs, spread them out on a baking sheet and bake for a few minutes, shaking to get an even toasting. Other items you might have in your pantry that can be crushed into breading for chicken include crackers, tortilla chips, rice cakes and unsweetened breakfast cereal, such as corn flakes.