With some limitations, saltine crackers make a convenient and effective breading for baked chicken or baked fish. Related to dry biscuits eaten by ancient Roman soldiers and British sailors and to the hardtack eaten by Civil War soldiers, saltine crackers became the modern thin crackers in the 19th century with the introduction of leaveners such as baking soda. You can buy saltines salted or unsalted and made with either all unbleached flour or with some whole-grain flour.
Cracker Prep Work
You need about 12 saltines to bread one chicken breast. While you won't be able to use leftover cracker crumbs because they have come into contact with raw chicken, it's best to err on the side of making too many crumbs as opposed to too few -- having to stop in the middle of the breading process to crush more crackers is time-consuming and messy. To convert a recipe for store-bought breadcrumbs, use about 28 crackers for each 1 cup of breadcrumbs.
Keeping the Crumbs Contained
To prevent cracker crumbs flying all over your kitchen, put the crackers in a heavy plastic bag that won't tear, and crush them with a rolling pin or potato masher. Then, pour the crackers into a small mixing bowl to make it easy to add seasonings. Choose unsalted saltines so you can control the level of sodium and add salt, pepper, dry herbs and spices, such as oregano, rosemary and thyme for Mediterranean chicken, if you want lots of flavor.
Making It Stick
Adding layers of ingredients gives you the best results when breading chicken with saltiness. Begin by dredging the chicken in flour to dry its surface, then shake off the excess flour and then dip the chicken in beaten eggs or egg whites, holding it over the bowl to let any excess egg drip off. Place the chicken on a plate spread with the crushed crackers and press the crumbs into the chicken, first on one side and then the other.
Tips and Tricks
Don't crush the saltines into powder -- you want crumbs that remain large enough to brown and not to turn soggy from the chicken juices. For the egg wash, add a small amount of Dijon mustard if you would like to give the chicken more flavor. And, as you finish breading each piece of chicken, place it on a wire rack so it doesn't get soggy before all the pieces are breaded. Cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer.
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