Shallow Fried Chicken with Southern Tomato Gravy
Topped with creamy, Southern-style tomato gravy, these crisp, golden, cornmeal-crusted chicken breasts are shallow-fried until tender and juicy.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying Southern tomato gravy, you’re in for a treat. Unlike Italian-style tomato sauces, it’s made with a blonde roux that combines flour and butter and/or bacon drippings, chopped sweet onion, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, and whole milk.
The result is a creamy tomato gravy that’s perfect for serving over these cornmeal-crusted chicken breasts and a side of mashed potatoes, rice, or buttermilk biscuits.
Tips for Making Crispy Shallow-Fried Chicken Breasts
The secret to good shallow-fried chicken is to make sure it stays moist and tender. Here are a few tips that will get you pan-frying chicken to tender perfection.
- Prepare the chicken: If your chicken breasts still have the tenderloins attached, remove and reserve them for another use. One at a time, place the chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap and gently pound them to a thickness of about 1/2-inch.
- Prepare the egg dip: Whisk egg and milk together in a pie plate or other shallow dish. The ratio is 1 tablespoon milk to 1 large egg.
- Prepare the crumb coating: Combine the breadcrumbs with the cornmeal, 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Spread the mixture on a dinner plate or sheet of wax paper.
- Coat the chicken in crumbs: Working with one piece of chicken at a time, dip in the egg mixture and turn once or twice to coat. Allow the excess egg to drip off, then lay the chicken on the bed of crumbs and use your fingers to press gently into the mixture to be sure the crumbs adhere. Repeat on the other side.
- Fry the chicken: Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with about 1/8-inch of vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add a pinch of bread crumbs to the pan and as soon as they begin to sizzle, the pan is pre-heated. Add the chicken in a single layer and fry until the crumb coating is golden brown and the interior of the chicken is no longer pink, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
- Watch the temperature: Every stove is different and you don’t want your crumb coating to burn while the chicken cooks all the way through. Check the bottom of each piece after 1 minute in the pan, and if the crumbs already browning, the heat is too high. Carefully turn the chicken over and reduce the heat.
- Handle the chicken gently: Use a thin spatula to turn the chicken and be careful so as not to damage the crumb coating.
- Check for doneness with a thermometer: Use an instant-read thermometer to check the chicken for doneness (165°F). This way you won’t need to cut it and let the juices run out.
- Let the chicken stand before serving: Place cooked chicken on a paper towel-lined plate and gently blot to absorb the oil from frying. Let stand for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.
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Shallow-Fried Chicken with Southern Tomato Gravy
- 4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Vegetable oil
For the tomato gravy
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
- 1 cup canned diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200°F and coat a shallow baking pan with nonstick spray.
- If your chicken breasts have tenderloins attached, remove them and reserve for another use.
- Place the chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound gently to an even thickness of 1/2-inch.
- Whisk the egg and milk together in a shallow dish (a pie plate works well). Thoroughly combine the cornmeal, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper on a plate or sheet of wax paper.
- Dip each piece of chicken in the egg, then coat with the cornmeal mixture, pressing gently to get a solid, even coating.
- Add about 1/8-inch of oil to a large, heavy frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts in a single layer and cook, turning several times, until golden brown, 2-1/2 to 3 minutes per side.
- Transfer to the prepared baking pan and place in the oven to keep warm while you make the gravy.
- Wipe any remaining oil from the pan and melt the butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until blended. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and develops a pale, golden color, 2 minutes.
- Add the onion and garlic and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened, 3 to 4 minutes longer. If you find the mixture starting to brown, turn down the heat.
- Stir in the tomatoes, chicken broth and milk and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has a thick, gravy consistency. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Note: If you feel the gravy is too thick, add a little extra chicken broth and milk in equal amounts.
- To serve, plate individual servings of the chicken, spoon a little gravy on top, and place the remaining gravy in a bowl to pass at the table. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or biscuits.