Chicken parmigiana, or "chicken parm," as it is affectionately known, is an Italian-American classic comfort dish that requires little in the way of ingredients but packs a lot of flavor into each bite. Who could resist breaded, pan-fried chicken cutlets smothered in tomato sauce and topped with hot, bubbly mozzarella?
However, chicken parm is not always fantastic — it needs an excellent sauce and a really nice coating of breadcrumbs. At first glance, parmigiana seems like a familiar formula for cooking chicken, veal, beef, fish, or just about any other protein that comes to mind. It even works brilliantly on vegetables like eggplant and zucchini. Grab three bowls, put some flour in one, beat an egg or two in another, and fill the third with some breadcrumbs. Pat the meat dry and take each piece for a dip in the same order. Take it for a spin in the old skillet, and it's soon time for golden-brown, crunchy, juicy deliciousness. Heat up some tomato sauce and top with cheese. The Japanese have a similar formula called tonkatsu, minus the tomato sauce and cheese. It's easy as one-two-three. Or is it?
See, it's with seemingly simple classic comfort foods like this one where there's often more than meets the eye. Molly Aronica, editor of the Eat/Dine channel here at The Daily Meal, says she "freaking loves" the dish, and Francesca Borgognone, editorial assistant to Colman Andrews, was similarly passionate about the dish as well, calling it "a whole meal in a bite." They offered some tips on making this dish that might not cross every cook's mind.
First things first: Let's talk about the breading. Achieving a good crunch is half the battle. The breading shouldn't be too thick, just enough to add crunch. The key element here is the flour; one must always use flour in order to achieve the proper thickness. No flour? Then no chicken parm. When the chicken pieces are dipped in flour, then in egg, the combination helps a nice, even layer of breadcrumbs adhere to the surface of the meat. And the breadcrumbs, if starting with plain, should be seasoned. Try a mixture of chopped fresh parsley, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Parmesan, says Borgognone.
Next, the cheese. A neat trick Aronica likes to use when making chicken parm is to top each cutlet with its own piece of mozzarella. That way, each piece gets its own gooey, bubbly rich topping. And it goes without saying — don't skimp out on the good stuff. So, to sum things up: parm in the breadcrumbs, mozz on top.
Also just as important: the sauce. What goes into a good sauce? Borgognone says that she uses jarred tomatoes in the off season, preserved at the peak of freshness during the summer. But, for the slightly less fanatical out there, it's OK to start with a quality canned tomato product. Just jazz it up a bit. Experiment with different combinations of garlic, onions, or fresh basil. The only must? A splash of white wine.
Finally, the actual cooking process. Ideally, it should be a two-step process. The chicken should be pan-fried just until golden on both sides and then finished in the oven together with the sauce and more cheese, says Aronica, because this results in a juicier piece of meat. She says to think of it like building lasagna; it's all about building layers of flavor. Start with a small amount of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, followed by a layer of chicken, then cheese. If there's more of each leftover, repeat to build another stratum.
Now that it's done, it's time to serve it. Never, ever serve chicken parm on top of pasta. Why? Borgognone says, "Because."