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Chicken Parmesan: A Classic Italian-American Delight

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Chicken Parmesan, also known as Chicken Parmigiana, is a beloved dish that has become a staple in Italian-American cuisine. This hearty and comforting meal features breaded and fried chicken cutlets smothered in marinara sauce and melted cheese. It’s a dish that combines the rich flavors of Italian cooking with the comfort food appeal of American dining. In this article, we will explore the origins of Chicken Parmesan, its key ingredients, and provide a detailed recipe for making this delicious dish at home.

The Origins of Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan is a variation of the Italian dish Melanzane alla Parmigiana, which is made with eggplant instead of chicken. The original dish hails from the southern regions of Italy, particularly Campania and Sicily. When Italian immigrants brought their culinary traditions to America, they adapted the eggplant-based recipe to include chicken, a more readily available and popular protein in the United States. This adaptation gave birth to the Chicken Parmesan we know and love today.

Key Ingredients

The beauty of Chicken Parmesan lies in its simplicity. The dish is made with a few key ingredients, each contributing to its delicious flavor and texture:

  • Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are typically used. They are pounded thin to ensure even cooking and tenderness.
  • Breadcrumbs: Used to coat the chicken, adding a crispy texture when fried. Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs add extra flavor.
  • Cheese: Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses are essential. Mozzarella provides a gooey, melted layer, while Parmesan adds a sharp, salty bite.
  • Marinara Sauce: A simple tomato sauce made with garlic, onions, tomatoes, and herbs. Homemade or good-quality store-bought marinara works well.
  • Eggs and Flour: Used to help the breadcrumbs adhere to the chicken.

Recipe: Chicken Parmesan

Ingredients:

For the Chicken:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (for topping)
  • 1 cup marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for frying)

For the Marinara Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the Marinara Sauce:
    • In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until it becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.
    • Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute, being careful not to burn it.
    • Stir in the crushed tomatoes, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, and pepper. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the Chicken:
    • Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
    • Place each chicken breast between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound the chicken to an even thickness, about 1/2 inch.
    • Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
    • Set up a breading station with three shallow bowls: one with the flour, one with the beaten eggs, and one with the breadcrumbs mixed with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
    • Dredge each chicken breast in the flour, shaking off any excess. Dip it into the beaten eggs, allowing any excess to drip off, and then coat it thoroughly with the breadcrumb mixture.
  3. Cook the Chicken:
    • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the breaded chicken breasts and cook until golden brown and crispy on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. You may need to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.
    • Transfer the browned chicken breasts to a baking dish.
  4. Assemble and Bake:
    • Spoon a generous amount of marinara sauce over each chicken breast in the baking dish.
    • Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella cheese evenly over the sauce. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.
    • Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the chicken is cooked through (an internal temperature of 165°F or 74°C).
  5. Garnish and Serve:
    • Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes.
    • Garnish with chopped fresh basil, if desired.
    • Serve hot, with additional marinara sauce on the side and a sprinkle of extra Parmesan cheese.

Tips for Perfect Chicken Parmesan

  • Thin Chicken Breasts: Pounding the chicken breasts to an even thickness ensures they cook evenly and remain tender.
  • Crispy Coating: Make sure the oil is hot enough before frying the chicken to achieve a crispy, golden-brown crust.
  • Homemade Sauce: While store-bought marinara can be convenient, making your own sauce allows you to control the flavor and quality of the ingredients.
  • Cheese Blend: Using a combination of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese adds depth of flavor and a perfect gooey texture.

Serving Suggestions

Chicken Parmesan is a versatile dish that pairs well with various sides. Here are a few serving suggestions:

  • Pasta: Serve the chicken over a bed of spaghetti or fettuccine, tossed with additional marinara sauce.
  • Salad: A simple green salad with a light vinaigrette provides a refreshing contrast to the rich chicken.
  • Vegetables: Roasted or steamed vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, or green beans, make a healthy and delicious side.
  • Garlic Bread: Serve with warm, buttery garlic bread for a complete Italian-American meal.

Variations

While the classic Chicken Parmesan recipe is delightful, you can customize it to suit your taste:

  1. Herbed Breadcrumbs: Add fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, or rosemary to the breadcrumb mixture for extra flavor.
  2. Spicy Chicken Parmesan: Add a pinch of red pepper flakes to the marinara sauce or the breadcrumb mixture for a spicy kick.
  3. Cheese Variations: Experiment with different cheeses like provolone, fontina, or asiago for a unique twist.

Conclusion

Chicken Parmesan is a timeless dish that brings together the best of Italian and American culinary traditions. Its crispy, golden-brown chicken, rich marinara sauce, and gooey melted cheese create a harmonious blend of flavors and textures that is sure to please any palate. By following this recipe and incorporating some of the tips and variations, you can create a delicious and satisfying Chicken Parmesan that will become a favorite in your household. So, gather your ingredients, roll up your sleeves, and enjoy the delightful process of making and savoring this classic dish. Buon appetito!

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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