May 1, 2011 |

Gotcha Covered: Breaded chicken makes a great pizza topping

By Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman

Think breaded chicken, and the ubiquitous chicken tender may come to mind. Yet many pizzeria operators find that breaded chicken also fits nicely in entrées and salads — and even as specialty pizza toppers.

At Casa Del-Dio Pizzeria and Italian Kitchen in Orlando, Florida, breaded chicken appears in traditional dishes such as chicken parmigiana and over salads. Guests also enjoy entrées such as chicken Del-Dio, which is a breaded chicken cutlet layered with ham, ricotta and mozzarella that is baked in a casserole dish, garnished with fresh parsley and served with pasta.

Breaded chicken need not be limited to entrées, salads or appetizers. Kyle Markott, owner of Gio’s Pizzeria in Coram, New York, offers breaded chicken on pizza. “Breaded chicken on pizza is one of our most popular toppings,” he says. “Our most famous pizza and biggest seller is our Chicken Bacon Ranch pizza. Customers go nuts for it! We also make a killer chicken Parmesan pizza as well.”

The Chicken Bacon Ranch pizza starts off with a dough baked with a cheese bottom. After baking, it is topped with breaded chicken cutlet,
bacon, mozzarella and American cheese. It returns to the oven to finish cooking. Once done, it’s drizzled with ranch dressing. “The smell encompasses the entire pizzeria,” says Markott.

Gio’s offers a full variety of breaded chicken, from buffalo and barbeque wings to chicken cutlets.

“We mostly offer traditional breaded chicken items,” Markott says. “(Yet), a lot of people add breaded chicken to their entrées, like penne vodka. It turns into a nice up-sell item.” Markott charges diners $2 extra to add chicken.

The best way to prepare and cook breaded chicken? Markott recommends the right amount of egg product and seasoned breadcrumb mixture. “A trick to the standard breadcrumb is to simply make it yourself,” he says. “You have the ability to add more seasoning instead of just buying them from your bread distributor. Definitely add Parmesan cheese to your breadcrumbs. Be sure to change your fryer oil on a regular basis for the best tasting chicken.”

Markott prefers to use fresh chicken. “We make our own chicken fingers, which many pizzerias buy frozen,” he says, adding that they also use fresh chicken wings.

Elisa Delgardio, operations and marketing manager at Casa Del-Dio Pizzeria and Italian Kitchen, says the best way to prepare breaded chicken is to pound out the cutlets, making sure they are not too thin. Then dip the cutlets in an egg wash made out of a mixture of egg and heavy cream. She drenches the cutlets into seasoned breadcrumbs and deep-fries the cutlets until golden brown. Delgardio prepares the breaded chicken per order.

Delgardio prefers to use fresh chicken versus frozen. “I find fresh chicken tastes better, and it’s easier to control the consistency,” she says.

Fresh isn’t best for every operator. Frozen chicken may be the preferred choice at high-volume establishments where less prep work and longer shelf life is valued. Utilizing frozen chicken tenders, for example, is an easy way to enhance an existing appetizer menu with little planning.

At Straw Hat Pizza and Restaurant, fresh chicken is placed on pizzas and salads. But, for the breaded chicken strip appetizers and kids’ meals, the company favors using a frozen product citing ease-of-use, says Jonathan C. Fornaci, president and CEO. “It’s very easy for Straw Hat. The strips come in frozen, and we pull them from the freezer and put directly in the pizza oven, cook for five minutes and serve,” he says. Since it is for a discounted kids’ meal, Fornaci says the food cost for the chicken is 28 percent.

Markott finds fresh chicken affords him better quality and control of food cost. Although he admits fresh chicken prices change frequently. Currently it costs $1.39 per pound. “Let’s face it, the more items you can prep in house without having to purchase in a box, you inevitably save money,” he says.

Five Breaded Chicken Pizza Possibilities
Need inspiration for your own specialty breaded chicken pies? Consider the following combinations:

    1. Chicken Parmesan (breaded chicken, tomato sauce and mozzarella).
    2. Chicken-Bacon-Ranch (cheese, bacon, breaded chicken and tomatoes with buttermilk ranch dressing drizzle).
    3. Tex-Mex Chicken (either red or green enchilada sauce topped with corn, diced breaded chicken, chilies, cheese, cilantro and drizzled in salsa).
    4. Barbecue Chicken (barbecue sauce topped with cheese, breaded chicken, bell peppers and onions).

Buffalo Chicken (breaded chicken, bleu cheese, red onions and mild buffalo sauce).

Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.