4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, about 6 ounces each
Salt and pepper
2 cups buttermilk (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of cayenne
2 cups fresh bread crumbs, from a French or Italian loaf
Put each chicken breast between 2 sheets of heavy plastic and pound them to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Trim any ragged edges. Season each breast on both sides with salt and pepper. If desired, place breasts in a bowl and cover with buttermilk and refrigerate for 1 hour (or up to 6 hours).
Prepare the breading: Arrange 3 shallow bowls. Add flour to one bowl, then season it with salt and pepper and a little cayenne. In another bowl, beat the eggs. Fill the third bowl with bread crumbs.
Drain the chicken. Dip each breast lightly into the seasoned flour, then into beaten egg and finally into the crumbs. Put breaded chicken on a baking sheet and sprinkle with more crumbs on both sides. Refrigerate, uncovered, until ready to fry.
Put a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil to a depth of 1 inch. Heat oil to 365 degrees. Test the temperature by throwing a bread crumb into the oil — it should brown gently. Add breaded chicken breasts in one layer without crowding. Do not disturb them until they become golden and crisp on one side, about 3 minutes.
Carefully turn with tongs and cook on the other side for 3 minutes more. Remove and drain breasts on absorbent paper. Give them a light sprinkling of salt.