Chicken Parmesan is made of components I love, like juicy chicken, savory Parmesan cheese, tangy tomato sauce, and spaghetti. So, in theory, I should love Chicken Parm as well, but for all its promise, in most restaurants, it’s an utter abomination that ruins the ingredients that go into the dish. With soggy flaps 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.
I think the biggest issue for me 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 seems a little silly to fry something to get it crisp, only to cover it with liquid and make it soggy. It's with that in mind that I set out to make the best Chicken Parmigiana ever!
My quest started with the chicken. Instead of pounding it flat, I used thigh meat (which is juicier than breast meat) and left the thickness as is. The thinking here is two-fold. The first is that pounding the chicken flat tends to make it dry out more easily. The second is that a flat cutlet gives the chicken more surface area, which changes the breading to meat ratio. This is fine for dishes like schnitzel where you want the whole thing to be crispy but does not work so well when you're dunking the cutlet in sauce, as the bread just gets soggy.
To bread the chicken, I used Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) rather than the European kind because the crumbs are larger, giving your chicken a nice thick, crispy coating. Along with some minced rosemary and thyme, I also added grated Parmigiano-Reggiano straight into the breadcrumbs to make sure you never wonder why the dish is called Chicken Parmesan.
Next, I wanted to see if I could avoid frying the chicken. Not because I was trying to make this healthy, but because deep-frying is a pain. A bit of olive oil drizzled on the cutlets before they go into the oven is all the oil that is needed to get the tops to crisp to beautiful golden brown. The bottom side admittedly didn't get as crisp, but this doesn't matter since the bottom of the chicken gets submerged in the sauce.
This brings me to the assembly and what makes my Chicken Parmigiana so good. Instead of pouring the sauce on top of the chicken, I put the sauce in the bottom of the pan, and then set the chicken ON TOP of the sauce. Simple right? Honestly, I don't get why everyone doesn't do it this way.
After the chicken then gets covered in cheese, it's baked in a hot oven, which melts and browns the cheese. The chicken stays crisp and cheesy on top, while the bottom half mingles with the hot bubbly sauce absorbing all of its great flavors.
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. If you have a good marinara sauce feel free to use that, otherwise I have an excellent basic tomato sauce recipe that makes just enough sauce for this dish.
Serve the Chicken Parmesan on a bed of your favorite pasta (I usually use spaghetti) for a simple, delicious meal that can easily be multiplied to feed a lot of people without much additional effort.
I’m not an advocate of buying unnecessary gadgets, but there are a few items that are indispensable. A fast, accurate thermometer is one of them, and I travel with a Thermapen in my chef's roll. It's waterproof, easy to read and only takes 2-3 seconds to get a reading. With a temperature range from -58 to 572 degrees F, you can use one Thermapen for everything from roasts to candy-making to deep-frying. If you need a thermometer (or you’re looking for a better one), you can get a Thermapen Mk4 here, or it’s little brother, the ThermoPop here.
- 550 grams boneless skinless chicken thighs (breasts work too)
- 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 4 grams fresh rosemary (~2 sprigs, stem removed and minced)
- 3 fresh thyme (~3 sprigs, stems removed and minced)
- 40 grams Parmigiano-Reggiano (grated, Parmesan Cheese will work as well)
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cups basic tomato sauce
- 80 grams Mozzarella cheese (grated)
- 320 grams spaghetti
- flat leaf parsley (minced for garnish)
- Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F (175 C). Place 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 baking in the oven, make, or reheat the basic tomato sauce.
- 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 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 to garnish.