Saturday, May 4, 2013

Chicken Parmesan ~ Improved

Chicken and veal Parmesan are thought of as classics of the Italian cuisine.  And while they are variants on the original eggplant (aubergine) that originated in southern Italy, it is likely these were developed outside of Italy by Italian immigrants.  Parmigiana, parmigiana di melanzane, or melanzane alla parmigiana all refer to this dish, which is claimed by both Campania and Sicily.

Julian's Improved Chicken Parmesan
Most cooks and restaurants make the dish by breading the meat or eggplant with a bread crumb Parmesan cheese mixture, browning in a skillet and then baking with sauce and topping with mozzarella cheese.  Having tried this dish at numerous restaurants, I usually find it to have way too much stringy, chewy, melted cheese on top, and breading that has turned to mush while baking in the sauce.  In short, not a great meal regardless of the center filling, which you can barely taste.

So this week I set out to try and improve the dish.  I should have known that my online search would turn up others that have also attempted to fix these problems, most notably Cooks Illustrated.  They headlined their article with this "What good does it do to create a crisp crust on this Italian American standard if it turns soggy as soon as it's sauced?"  My sentiments exactly.

Below you will find my version of Chicken Parmesan which is largely adapted from that of Cooks Illustrated.  I made several minor adjustments.  When comparing to the classic preparation  you will note the chicken is no longer baked in sauce then topped with cheese, but rather just the opposite.   The chicken is baked with a mixture of two types of cheese (for flavor and texture) and then topped with the sauce after it comes out of the oven.  The cheese acts as a barrier to the sauce keeping the breading crisp.   The other main difference between this and most recipes for chicken or veal Parmesan is the amount of grated Parmesan in the breading.  Now it actually tastes like the name suggests it should.  I had chicken on hand (a huge breast as it turns out) but this could easily be replicated with veal or eggplant.

While I don't give you a recipe here for sauce, you will need a good tomato sauce either homemade or from a jar, as many these days do taste quite nice.

12-16 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat.
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fontina cheese, shredded
1 large egg
1 tablespoon flour
 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup vegetable oil
cooking spray (Pam)

Freeze the chicken breasts for 15 minutes then slice them horizontally as shown in the photo.  Pound them to an even thickness.  Sprinkle both sides with 1/8 teaspoon of salt and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Combine mozzarella and fontina cheese in a bowl, set aside.

Whisk egg and flour together in a shallow pie plate until smooth.  Combine Parmesan, panko break crumbs, garlic powder, oregano, basil and pepper in a second shallow pie plate.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels.  Working with one cutlet at a time, dredge cutlet in the egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off.  Coat all sides in Parmesan mixture, pressing so crumbs adhere.  Transfer to a large plate and repeat with remaining cutlets.

Prepare a baking sheet by covering it in foil and spraying with food release or a light coating of olive oil.  Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until very hot but not smoking.  Carefully place several cutlets in the skillet and fry until brown, about 1-2 minutes.  Carefully turn and brown the other side.  Remove cutlets to prepared baking sheet.  Brown remaining cutlets in a similar fashion.

Adjust oven rack 4 inches from broiler element and heat.  Sprinkle cheese mixture evenly over cutlets, covering as much as possible.  Broil until cheese is melted 2-3 minutes.  Watch during broiling to ensure they do not become overly browned.  Transfer to a serving platter or top a portion of prepared pasta with a serving of chicken.  Top each cutlet with two tablespoons of sauce.  Sprinkle with basil and Parmesan cheese and serve.

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