I have a love-hate relationship with Chicken Parm. It sounds great in theory: I love chicken, I love Parmesan, I love tomato sauce and I love spaghetti. So I should love Chicken Parmesan too, right? But for all its promise, in most restaurants, it's an utter abomination that ruins the ingredients that go into the dish. With soggy pancakes of mystery meat saturated with old grease and insipid sauce, I've never been able to get behind the American interpretation of Pollo Alla Parmigiana.
Part of the problem is that most chicken parm recipes have you douse the crisp fried chicken with sauce before covering it with cheese and then baking it. Maybe it's just me, but it it seems a little silly to fry something to get it crisp only to cover it with liquid and make it soggy. That's why I decided to stick the sauce under the chicken. I still cover it with cheese and bake it to give the cheese color, but this way, the top stays crispy, while the bottom absorbs all the great flavors in the sauce.
This is also the reason why I choose to bake the chicken rather than fry it, because it doesn't make a difference in the finished Chicken Parmesan, while making cleanup easier and reducing the amount of fat in the dish. Sure the bottom side of the chicken may not get crispy in the oven, but who cares since it's going into the sauce anyway.
For the breading, I like using Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) rather than the European kind because the crumbs are larger, giving your chicken a nice thick crispy coating. I also use a lot of Parmigiano Reggiano in the coating since Parmesan is in the name after all.
As for the sauce, I find most places spend more time on the chicken than on the sauce (which isn't saying much) and the sauce tends to be watery, bland and sour. I still like to keep the sauce simple, but by caramelizing the onions first and adding tomato paste, you can make a more flavorful balanced sauce for your chicken to sit atop.
All put together and tossed in a hot oven for a few minutes, and you'll have a dish of moist, juicy chicken cutlets that are crisp and cheesy on top with a thick, flavorful sauce bubbling up from underneath.
Basic Tomato Sauce
- Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F (175 C). Put a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet.
- In a large bowl, combine the panko, rosemary, thyme and parmigiano reggiano.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg until the yolk and white are well incorporated.
- Generously salt and pepper the chicken on both sides, then dust with flour to coat evenly.
- Dip the coated chicken in the egg, making sure to cover the whole surface of the chicken with egg, then transfer the chicken to the bowl with the breadcrumb mixture. Coat both sides with a thick layer panko, pressing down on the chicken a bit to ensure an even coat.
- Place the chicken on the wire rack, then drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil evenly over the chicken.
- Put the baking sheet in the oven. Bake chicken for 20-25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 160 degrees F (71 C).
- While the chicken is in the oven, heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, along with the garlic and onions. Saute until the onions are translucent and start turning brown around the edges.
- Add the stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, and dried oregano, then salt and pepper to taste. Use a spatula to break up the tomatoes into small pieces. Simmer until the sauce is no longer watery.
- Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.
- After removing the chicken from the oven, increase the temperature to 500 degrees F (260 C).
- Pour the sauce into a casserole dish, then top with the baked chicken. Sprinkle with the Mozzarella and you can top with additional Parmesan if you'd like.
- Bake the Chicken Parmesan until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has formed a golden brown crust on top.
- Boil the pasta according to the package directions, drain, then toss with olive oil.
- Serve the Chicken Parmesan over a bed of spaghetti with a sprinkle of parsley for garnish.