As a first-generation Italian, I have had the pleasure of eating some unbelievably beautiful food made with passion by my aunts, my nonna, my pop’s aunts, my aunt’s relatives visiting from Italy (etc.), my pop, and my mom. Yet out of all of the dishes made for us, no one ever made chicken parmesan, at least that I can remember. I think the first time I had it was at Maggiano’s or some such place, and I loved it, and still do.
Chicken Parmesan looks daunting to make, but ’tisn’t. It also looks very fattening. It kind of is, but it’s not that bad, truth be told. You can bake the chicken, of course, and cut the calories and fat that way, but this is one dish where I feel that trying to make it “Weight Watchers Friendly” does it a disservice. I have tried to cook this a bunch of different ways, but the way I will show in this post kicks the other recipes in the coglioni.
I usually serve this with Italian Green Beans (I will write about this in a later post), or a salad of some sort to cut through it a bit. Tonight, as often I do, I made a Caesar salad, a salad made famous by Scungilli Caesar, a Roman obstetrician who felt that Romaine lettuce, hardened bread, parmesan, and a creamy dressing were crucial to prenatal care.
In any case, here goes…
Serves 2 (double everything to serve 4, wise guy)
(Note: If you’re short on time, use a jarred sauce and you’ll be fine. I love the Trader Joe’s Basil Marinara for $1.79. Is it as good as the homemade one below? Your call. Try both.)
1 tbsp. butter or olive oil (butter massages the taint here, IMHO)
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar
A few leaves of fresh basil, chopped, or a teaspoon of dried basil
Heat the butter or oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until they’re a bit brown (that’s where the flavor comes from, my mom and brother would say, and they’d be right).
Carefully add the undrained tomatoes, salt, pepper, and sugar. Get this to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook it like this for at least 10 minutes, or even longer, while you make the chicken and the pasta.
Right before you serve it, stir in the chopped or dried basil. Taste for salt (and add some if you need to) and you’re ready to go.
2 boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. milk
1/4 cup of canola or vegetable oil for frying (I do not suggest olive oil here; it’s too heavy)
A few thin slices of fresh (best) or regular (still good) mozzarella
A few tablespoons of parmesan
Wash, dry, and cut off the fat and bad parts from the chicken breasts. Take a piece of plastic wrap and put it on a cutting board and lay one of the breasts on it. Take another piece of plastic wrap of equal size and put it on top. Take a mallet or small pan and beat your chicken until it’s about a 1/2″ to a 1/4″ thickness and mostly even. Repeat with the second breast. It will look like this, yo:
In a bowl, beat the egg and the milk. On a flat plate, mix the bread crumbs, oregano, and parmesan.
Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot over medium to medium high heat. If you put a drop of water in it and it pops and sizzles, it’s ready.
Coat each chicken breast well with the egg mixture and then coat each with the breadcrumb mixture, like this:
Place it carefully in the hot oil. Fry for 4 minutes on each side (or until cooked through), and each should be golden brown on each side (a bit darker is OK too…I’m always careful to cook my chicken through). You might have to do this in two batches.
Drain them on paper towels.
Preheat your oven to broil.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place each breast on the foil.
On each breast, add a few slices of mozzarella and a tablespoon or two of parmesan, like this:
Put this under the broiler for a few minutes, and make sure you don’t burn them. 2 to 3 minutes works for me.
Put a portion of freshly-cooked pasta (thin spaghetti works for me here) mixed with some of the sauce on a plate. Put a chicken breast with melted cheese on it with finesse, and then spoon some more sauce on top of it. It looks like this:
Put a napkin, knife, and fork out on the table and make a toast (see below).
I got this at Trader Joe’s tonight. It’s one of the best Italian wines I have had in a while from there. It was not expensive, perhaps $7? I forgot because my 4 year old was running amok with his own little cart at that point.
The Italian Toast
I worked at a “fine dining” Italian restaurant as a bartender before I started my penance as a high school English teacher. The owner and chef taught me this toast one night as we were closing and having some vino.
A few years later, I made the toast in front of my dad, who came to the U.S. from Naples in the 1950’s. He asked me where I learned it, and then he proceeded to tell me that, in Italy, it goes back to the time of Dante (1200’s-1300’s, that is). I can’t verify it, but my pop’s from there, so I’ll take his word for it. I invoke this toast as often as I can in mixed company, the more conservative, the better. Make everyone repeat after you as you say each part with passion, glasses raised high. Translate it for them only after they’ve drunk a sip:
Acqua Fresca, Vino Puro,
Fica Stretta, Cazzo Duro
(notice how it rhymes in Italian)
Fresh Water, Pure Wine,
Tight Pussy, Hard Dick
(alas, no rhyme)
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino, 2012