June 10, 2017

Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken Parmigiana is a bit of a process, but it doesn't have to be an ordeal to make at home. Moreover, there's one truly excellent reason to do so: leftover chicken parmigiana makes simply amazing sandwiches.

It helps lighten the workload if you have some good homemade basic tomato sauce on hand (I like to keep some in the freezer), but you could use a purchased one. The chicken itself is shallow-fried rather than deep fried (you could also bake them), and the cooking time is actually pretty quick. You might want to have your side dishes already to go when you lay the chicken in the pan, because the cooking time is mostly active and it can be challenging to do tend to two items that are highly active at the same time. Fortunately for me, my chosen side dish of spaghetti aglio e olio wasn't time or labour intensive (and the mise en place was done in advance), which minimized the juggling.

Restaurant versions of chicken parmigiana often are a bit light on the parmesan cheese, and for extra gooey-ness include a lot of mozzarella. Now, I like mozzarella just fine, but I didn't want its rich presence to overshadow the parmesan itself, so I simply went to town with a lot of parmesan before it went into the oven, and a renewed layer of freshly grated parmesan when it came out.

It's always important to maintain good kitchen hygiene when working with raw chicken, so I lay out the breading bowls in a straight line, to ensure I'm not going back and forth.

Chicken Parmigiana

Makes 4 cutlets

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 cups coarse, dry breadcrumbs, such as panko

1 cup basic tomato sauce

1 cup freshly grated/shredded parmesan

canola oil - enough to cover the bottom of a large skillet about a centimetre deep

Before you start with the chicken, get your pan ready with the oil - you'll want it heated to about 180-190°C (350-375°F) if you have the ability to control/set the temperature. Otherwise, set it over medium heat for now. Turn the oven on to preheat to 200°C (400°F) with the rack in the middle of the oven. Place the tomato sauce in a small skillet or saucepan to warm up.

Using a sharp knife, slice each chicken breast horizontally into two thin cutlets. With a mallet or other meat-flattening device, gently pound the cutlets until they are about a quarter bigger than they were, and the meat is as even as you can make it. Move your four cutlets to the start of your breading line (be sure to have a clean plate and the end of the line, to hold the breaded cutlets).

Mix the flour with the salt and pepper (you can add a pinch or two of dried basil or oregano if you like) in a wide, shallow bowl wide enough to fit the flattened cutlet. In the next bowl, place the beaten egg. In the final bowl, the breadcrumbs.
Without hurrying, dip the first cutlet into the flour mixture to thoroughly coat it on all sides, and give it a good shake to remove any excess flour back into the bowl. Then, dip the floured cutlet into the egg, again, coating it thoroughly, and letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Next, lay the cutlet in the breadcrumbs, and press it down firmly so the breadcrumbs really stick to it. Turn it over and press again. Lift gently (no need to shake this time) and lay it on the receiving plate at the end of the line. Repeat until all four cutlets are breaded.

When your oil is ready (it may already be ready - test it by sticking a wooden skewer or raw spaghetti strand in, and if it bubbles immediately it's good to go), lay the first two cutlets side by side in the pan (I use tongs to gently lay them in the pan). While they fry, place a metal baking/cooling rack on a sheet pan and have it standing by to receive the fried cutlets. When the bottom side is golden brown, use the tongs to flip the cutlets over to the other side. It doesn't take longer than a couple of minutes, because the cutlets are so thin, so pay attention to them. When the first two are done, remove them to your rack-on-the-baking sheet, and start frying the remaining two cutlets the same as the first. While they are frying, grate your parmesan.

When the second pair of cutlets have finished frying and have joined the first pair on the rack, spoon a little of the tomato sauce onto each cutlet, spreading it to cover the top surface (you might have some sauce leftover). Next, add a hearty layer of grated parmesan on top of the tomato sauce, and then transfer the whole rack & sheet to the oven for a few minutes until the parmesan is melted and the dish comes together as a glorious whole. Remove the rack from the oven, add a fresh layer of parmesan, and serve immediately.

But wait...I mentioned sandwiches, right?

So, if you planned to have some cutlets leftover, leave them on the rack to cool completely, and then transfer to an airtight container in the fridge. When you are ready to turn them into sandwiches, take them out of the fridge and place them in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, to take the chill off of them. Then, they are ready to slide into a lightly buttered bun (you don't need other condiments, although if a few fresh basil leaves happen to mysteriously fall into the sandwich it wouldn't end the world). Slice each bun in half, and serve - or wrap well in greaseproof paper for a picnic.

You could of course use other bread, but I find a nice, fresh bun has the sturdiness to cope with such an imposing filling. It also means that the cutlet will just slightly overhang the bun, which is an ideal ratio of bread for this kind of sandwich.

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