Even a child can learn how to make Chicken Parmesan. It’s just that easy, and it is a dish that can be made to feed one person or a big crowd. Chicken Parmesan can be made ahead and then just baked right before serving to warm the crispy-breaded, tomato-sauced chicken and to melt the Mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano® cheeses that are its crowning glory.
While Parmigiana means “from Parma,” a small city in Northern Italy, Chicken Parmesan is not a dish that is made there. Instead, it is a Southern Italian dish developed by immigrant cooks from Campania (the area around Naples) and Sicily who popularized this tasty assemblage of breaded chicken, tomato sauce, and melted cheeses in the United States and Canada, where it is called simply Chicken Parmesan and commonly served with a side of pasta. In Argentina it’s called “Milanesa de Pollo” and served with French fries. It’s served the same way in Australia, where it is called simply a “Parma”.
No matter what you call it, how to make Chicken Parmesan is pretty much the same the world over.
The first step to making a delicious Classic Chicken Parmesan is to find the right size chicken breast. Chicken breasts have gotten so large over the last few years that it is hard to find a small 6-ounce breast. If only large chicken breasts are available, you can slice them in half (horizontally) and then pound them out a bit to make them even. Or you can look for pre-sliced chicken cutlets. In any case, the pounding step is absolutely necessary.
The second step is to coat the cutlets in a “bound” breading. Line up three plates or pie pans. In the first put flour seasoned with salt and pepper. In the second put a couple of beaten eggs, and in the third put bread crumbs. If you like, flavor the crumbs by mixing in some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some fresh or dried herbs. To keep your fingers from getting bulbous breaded tips of their own, decide which hand is going to be your “dry hand” and which hand is going to be your “wet hand.” Dip the first cutlet in the flour with your “dry hand,” coating the chicken all over and then shaking off the excess. Now with your “wet hand” dip the cutlet in the beaten egg until completely wet, letting the excess drain back into the egg mixture. Drop the cutlet with your “wet hand” into the crumbs, but don’t let your fingers touch them. With your “dry hand” toss some crumbs up over the cutlet and flip it over a couple of times in the crumbs, patting them in to make sure that the cutlet is evenly encrusted. Repeat with the remaining cutlets.
Once all the cutlets are breaded, heat about a quarter of an inch of vegetable or olive oil in a skillet and add a couple of the cutlets. Don’t crowd the pan. Usually you can fry two to three cutlets at a time.
Cook on each side until golden (about three minutes). The chicken doesn’t have to be cooked through; it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain the cutlets on paper towels.
The third step is the assembly and baking of the Chicken Parmesan. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of a baking sheet or casserole big enough to hold the cutlets in one layer. Top with Simple Tomato Sauce or your favorite Marinara Sauce.Sprinkle generously with Mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses.
Up to this point the dish can be made several hours ahead and held at room temperature. Then just about 20 minutes in the oven is all you need to make the best Chicken Parmesan ever.
To transform Chicken Parmesan into Healthy Baked Chicken Parmesan, which needs no frying, begin by skipping the flouring of the cutlets and dip them directly into egg whites which are beaten with a bit of corn starch and pepper. Next coat them, as before, in bread crumbs mixed with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Instead of frying the breaded cutlets, bake them to crisp perfection and then sauce with simple tomato sauce and layer with Mozzarella before popping the dish back into the oven just until the cheese melts.
Skip the traditional side of spaghetti and serve this Healthy Chicken Parmesan with a colorful pile of Zinguini, zucchini you can enjoy twirling like spaghetti but minus the carbs.
Now that you have the basics of how to make Chicken Parmesan you can start having some fun. Substitute crushed corn flakes for the bread crumbs as we do in our Parmesan Chicken Tenders recipe. If you substitute rice flour for the regular flour, now you have a gluten-free Chicken Parmesan. Try using a tomato sauce with sliced mushrooms or chunks of eggplant in it. This is a great way to get more vegetables into your meal. Replace the Mozzarella with shredded Fontina or cubes of Taleggio. All three are great melting cheeses but lend a different finish to the dish. Leftover Chicken Parmesan, heated in the microwave makes a great sub.
Don’t forget to teach the next generation how to make Chicken Parmesan. Children love to help out in the kitchen, and this is a knife-free recipe that they can enjoy helping you prepare. When you all sit down for a great meal together, be sure to pass around a bowl of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It is like sprinkling on the traditional love that makes Italian food everybody’s favorite.