Time to talk buttermilk: Buttermilk-brined and Baked Chicken

It’s time to talk about buttermilk.

One of my favorite ingredients which imparts tangy flavor and silky texture, is relatively easy to find, and actually low-fat.  What’s not to love?

The buttermilk that I buy in the grocery store, the one most of us living in the northern USA are familiar with today, is a cultured buttermilk, made with low-fat milk and lactic acids, and containing good-for-you bacteria which aids digestion (like yogurt.)  True buttermilk is very hard to find in a store – usually only found at dairy farms, it is the by-product of churning cream into butter.  (For true nerds and baking enthusiasts, you may find this history of buttermilk courtesy of Slate.com interesting.  Thanks, Slate!)  I wouldn’t recommend drinking it by itself, but as an ingredient, buttermilk is rather versatile.  You’ll find it mostly in baked goods, and I’ve made my share, but my favorite recipe using buttermilk is actually a breaded and baked chicken recipe.

Adapted from a Bon Appetit article I read years ago, I’ve created a low-fat breaded chicken recipe that you can prepare mostly overnight, for a quick week-day dinner.  And it’s a recipe that I think about all day, one I can’t wait to get home to.  The breading is so flavorful and complex, it’s like the best shake and bake you ever had.  No – better.  And the usual flour-egg-breading process isn’t necessary, because the buttermilk brine is viscous enough to stick to the wet, raw chicken breasts AND cling to the breading.  (Ooh, or maybe the dijon mustard in the brine actually emulsifies it and gives it that eggy quality – I just thought of that right now!)

And the best part – the recipe doesn’t call for nearly all the buttermilk you bought (it usually comes in quart-sized containers), so you’ve got leftovers for all the carby baked goods you want to try.  A crave-inducing low-fat recipe that gives you an excuse to make super indulgent baked goods – now who ever said I didn’t treat you right?

Buttermilk Brined Baked Chicken


  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 TBL dijon mustard
  • 1 TBL olive oil
  • 1 TBL lemon juice
  • 1 large garlic clove, pressed (check out my technique below, which avoids cleaning the garlic press.)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless, thinly sliced chicken breasts (Bought these at Trader Joe’s and I’m not looking back.)20140406_152930


  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs (aka Japanese style, a drier, more crunchy form of bread crumb, pretty readily available in grocery stores – try the Asian aisle)
  • 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 3 TBL flour
  • 1/2 TBL dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp lemon zest (zest the lemon used for juice in the marinade before juicing, it will be much easier)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (if you don’t own this yet, buy some for this recipe and thank me later.   A myriad of applications are now open to you!)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

The Process

  1. Measure out the wet ingredients in the marinade and mix together in a bowl, so that mustard is incorporated.  
  2. To press the garlic, you can use a garlic press.  If you don’t have one (or hate washing yours, like me), you can sprinkle some salt over your minced clove and press it by hand with a knife.
Minced garlic
Sprinkled with Salt
Sprinkled with Salt
Press down with the flat of your knife and drag across the cutting board

20140406_15400820140406_1540283.  When marinade is mixed, add your chicken (in a gallon Ziploc bag, or in flat dish with sides, like this 9×9″ baking dish I used – nonstick and very easy to clean) and coat thoroughly.  Cover and marinate overnight. 20140406_154402

4.  If I’m prepping the dish the night before, I like to assemble the breading at this time, too.  As long as I’m doing dishes… this makes next day assembly super fast.  Just mix all ingredients in an air-tight plastic container and slap its lid on – done and done.  You can bread the chicken right in the container – just be sure to pick one with enough space, 2-3 times the surface area of the chicken breast.

5. The next day, heat your oven to 450ºF.  Place a cooling rack inside (or on top of) a half-sheet pan (18″x13″) – you can line the pan with foil for easy clean-up.   The cooling rack will keep the chicken elevated so it’s crispy on top and bottom.

6. Take your marinated chicken out and place the marinated chicken and breading right next to the pan, for easy transfer.  Bread the chicken as thoroughly as possible in that delicious, delicious coating.  Transfer to the rack.20140406_180629 20140406_180638 20140406_180704

7. Carefully put your chicken in the oven for 20 minutes.  The rack-on-pan can be a little unwieldy when being carried.

8.  When the baking time is over, take care when transferring chicken to your plate – you’ll see below that I scraped a little breading off with my tongs.  You may want to wait a few minutes before transferring (if you can bear to wait any longer), or gently transfer with a spatula or even your dining utensils.

9. Enjoy some badass breaded chicken.



7 thoughts on “Time to talk buttermilk: Buttermilk-brined and Baked Chicken”

  1. Awesome recipe! So many restaurants cover chicken in heavy breading or drown it in sauces – you got to let the chicken shine on its own sometimes! I particularly like that the brining allows you to skip that egg-flour mess; that stuff always makes my hands all weird and gunky. And yay for Panko, King of the Breadcrumb Kingdom.

    A++ for baking as opposed to pan frying the cutlets in oil, too. PEOPLE – IT’S A MILLION TIMES HEALTHIER, A MILLION TIMES EASIER (just put in, set timer, and walk away!), AND TASTES JUST AS GOOD. Also thank god for those chicken breasts that are sliced thin, amirite? I always end up butchering the hell out of the regular cuts when I try to halve them myself, or I am forced to feel like a crazy person when I pound them thin. COOKING SHOULDN’T MAKE YOU FEEL CRAZY. Baking is specifically reserved for the crazies.

  2. So glad you like the recipe, Rudy! I can’t wait for you to try it – let me know how it turns out!

    I totally agree, baking and roasting (is there a difference? Should I call this Roasted Buttermilk-brined Chicken? Hmmm…) are my favorite heat applications for cooking, although it does make my apartment mega-hot. But you can’t beat the convenience! We roast veggies all the time in our house.

  3. We tried the chicken tonight. Well, I made panko breaded chicken soaked in buttermilk, but I wanted to start out simple, so I made it bland. And I think I made it too bland. There was a definite tang from the buttermilk, but it could have used a bit more flavor. The panko breading did come out nice and crispy. We generally use normal cutlets, not thin ones, and found these a bit too thin. So next time, normal cutlets and a bit more flavoring.

    I used some of the buttermilk to make cornbread in my cast iron skillet, which I had never done before. The skillet part worked, but I wasn’t enamored of the recipe. Too dry, and not sweet enough. I’ll have to try my standard (extremely unhealthy) buttermilk cornbread recipe next time.

    And tomorrow night, making and freezing buttermilk biscuits. 🙂

    1. Carole, so glad you tried the chicken! I understand that the flavors in the buttermilk breading might be a little assertive for you guys. Wish I had thought of this on Sunday – but if you want to start small, might I suggest adding the parmigiano reggiano cheese and dried thyme, plus salt and pepper? I think you’ll like that!

      Sad thing about the buttermilk cornbread not turning out. I would have imagined it would have added some needed flavor to the cornbread. But – you win some, you lose some!

      Buttermilk biscuits, however – always a winner. 🙂

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