Mom’s Favorite Chicken Dinner Gets a Makeover

The only problem with crumby chicken is the silent b. Try calling your mother’s awesome bread crumb-coated chicken by its traditional name in conversation, and people will think you’re being mean. But Mom’s crumb-y chicken is not crummy at all.

That’s why I call my version of this retro classic, “crispy mustard chicken with bread crumbs,” so there’s no misunderstanding.

Recipe: Crispy Mustard Chicken With Bread Crumbs

But there’s another rationale to the longer title: Leading with the texture highlights the delightful, audible crispness of the skin. As the bone-in chicken thighs roast, the fat from the skin renders, endowing the buttered coating with a deep and delightful crunch. Using panko in place of the usual finely ground bread crumbs (or cornflakes or cracker crumbs, depending on what Mom had around) makes the crisp coating feathery light and almost airy.

In another deviation, I use a piquant mix of mustard, Worcestershire sauce, chile flakes and garlic instead of dipping the chicken pieces in some combination of eggs, milk or melted butter before rolling them in the crumbs. The spiked mustard seasons the meat, keeping it juicy and tender, while also preventing the crumbs from sliding off the chicken and onto the baking pan.

Roasting chicken thighs on a sheet pan allows for greater airflow, helping them to brown more evenly.Credit…Bobbi Lin for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Maggie Ruggiero.

And about that baking pan: If your mother made this dish, she probably baked it in a 9-by-13-inch pan or casserole dish. I opt for a sheet pan. Its lower sides allow air to circulate, encouraging the chicken pieces to brown more evenly.

It will take at least 35 to 45 minutes for the crumbs to turn golden and crisp, which means that dark meat is the best choice for this recipe. (Delicate white meat is prone to drying out during long stints in the oven.) Still, if it’s white meat or nothing in your household, try this with bone-in, skin-on breasts. Keep a close eye on them and pull them out as soon as they are cooked through (25 to 35 minutes depending on the size). The crumbs may not be quite as burnished, but the meat will stay nicely moist. And if you’d rather skip the bones, boneless, skinless thighs can work nearly as well, though you’ll lose that blanket of potato chip-like chicken skin.

Serve this with a big green salad to round out your wonderful, crumby meal. Just don’t call it that out loud — unless Mom’s around. She’ll know exactly what you mean.

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