If Chicken Parmigiana is your favorite Italian dish, you may be surprised to learn that it is not Italian at all. How is it possible that a dish that is on almost every Italian restaurant menu didn’t even originate in Italy?! And how did it become so synonymous with Italian food? Well, you are about to find out all about Chicken Parmigiana!
As you already found out, Chicken Parmigiana is not truly an Italian dish but there is something that closely resembles it in classic southern Italian cuisine and that is melanzane alla parmigiana or eggplant parmesan. Eggplant that was breaded, fried and layered with tomato sauce and cheese was very popular in areas like Sicily. Some sources say that melanzane alla parmigiana may have northern Italian roots such as in the Parma region for which the dish is named. However, parmigiana most likely just references the cheese from the Parma area (Parmigiano Reggiano) that is used in the dish.
Many of the early Italian immigrants who traveled to the United States were from southern Italy and they brought the idea of eggplant parmesan with them. Once in the United States, immigrants were finally able to afford meat which was much cheaper than in Italy. Forget about economical eggplant, chicken and veal sound much better! Restaurants began using meat to bread and layer with cheese and sauce rather than the traditional eggplant and a new dish was born. What is now a staple in every Italian restaurant in the United States is not one hundred percent Italian but actually an Italian American creation.
What is Chicken Parmigiana?
So now you know the background of this delicious meal but what is really in chicken parmigiana? I bet you can guess the first ingredient- chicken! Breaded chicken, a nice coating of marinara followed by a layer of mozzarella and parmesan cheese makes up the standard chicken parmesan. Then come the variations…
Chicken Parmesan Variations
While the simple chicken parmigiana as described is great on its own (put it on a plate and serve it!), there have been additions to the recipe over the years that are now considered to be common. The first is to serve the chicken on top of pasta. Adding pasta truly makes chicken parmigiana a full, complete meal! This version is actually thought to go all the way back to the dishes origin when Italian immigrants were elated to be able to afford luxuries such as chicken. What is even more luxurious than plain chicken parmesan on a plate? Chicken parmesan and pasta together on a plate! Today, many people automatically think of chicken parmigiana as a pasta dish.
Chicken parmigiana is also frequently made into a sandwich. A thick breaded chicken cutlet is placed between a nice crusty bread and topped with the traditional marinara and cheese. While it is not clear how chicken parmigiana first became a sandwich, it makes complete sense to serve it this way. When sandwiched between bread, your chicken parmigiana is now portable! It is also great served hot or cold when eaten this way so pack it in your lunchbox and you will have something to look forward to at lunchtime!
How To Make Chicken Parmigiana
The chicken for chicken parmigiana is prepared by first coating a chicken cutlet in a breading and either frying it or baking it until it is golden brown. For those who like a nice thick breading, it is best to dip the chicken cutlet in flour, followed by whisked egg and then finally into the breadcrumbs. For a thinner breading, you can simply dip the chicken in the breadcrumbs alone and then bake. The breading for the chicken is best when seasoned with common Italian herbs such as basil and oregano. As far as what the best oil to cook the chicken in it, italian olive oil is the winner by far, especially if you are baking the chicken.
Marinara sauce is the next key ingredient for chicken parmigiana and a nice homemade sauce can’t be beat! Some canned San Marzano tomatoes, a few herbs, garlic and onions and you are well on your way to a perfect sauce. However, if you have a favorite canned tomato sauce you’d like to use, go for it! Pre-made sauce will undoubtedly get you an excellent chicken parmigiana faster.
Cheese is the final significant ingredient for chicken parmigiana and while it may be tempting to buy a cheaper cheese, splurging for a high-end mozzarella will be worth the extra cost. There is a big difference in packaged, inexpensive mozzarella versus a fresh mozzarella and you will appreciate the more delicate cheese on the first bite into your chicken parmigiana.
So now you have your breaded chicken, a nice marinara and a good quality mozzarella, you are ready to construct your chicken parmigiana! This is the easy part- chicken first, tomato sauce next followed by mozzarella and a sprinkle of parmigiano reggiano cheese. The chicken parmesan then goes into the oven or under a broiler to melt the cheese and heat the sauce to perfection. Finally, it is time to eat!
Tips and Tricks to Chicken Parmigiana
Now that you have a great basic idea of how to make chicken parmigiana, there are a few tricks to alterations to make it great. One way to make your recipe stand out is to use fresh, crusty bread for the breading. Use a food processor to grind up bread into small crumbles then add some dried basil, oregano and a dash of garlic powder. Homemade breadcrumbs will surely amp up your chicken parmigiana.
If you plan on frying your breaded chicken, make sure the temperature of your frying oil is not too hot or too cold. Frying oil should be between 375 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil that is too hot will cause the chicken to burn on the outside while the inside is potentially still raw. Oil that is too cold will make for greasy breading and tough chicken as it will have to fry for a lengthy amount of time. If you plan on frying frequently, investing in a cooking thermometer is a great idea.
We have already mentioned the quality of the cheese, but it is worth reiterating. Fresh mozzarella is available in most grocery or Italian specialty stores and is far superior when compared to pre-packaged cheese. The same goes for the parmesan – skip the dry stuff and grate some real parmigiano or grana padano over your chicken.
You are now a chicken parmigiana expert so that means it is time to cook! Here is a great recipe that will produce some delicious chicken parmesan. Serve it over pasta, on bread or by itself on a plate and enjoy!
Chicken Parmigiana Recipe
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoon milk
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
- 1 cup olive oil (if frying)
- 3 cups marinara
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella
- 1/4 cup fresh grated parmigiano
- 3 teaspoon fresh chopped basil
Sprinkle the pounded chicken breasts with the salt and pepper rubbing both sides with the seasoning.
Place the flour in a small bowl, the bread crumbs in a separate bowl and the eggs and milk in a third bowl. Whisk together the eggs and milk
Dip the chicken breasts into the flour and coat both sides. Then, dip the chicken into the egg followed by the breadcrumbs. Be sure to coat the chicken thoroughly in breadcrumbs then place on a foil lined baking tray.
Repeat step number 3 with all the chicken breasts.
If you are frying the chicken breasts, heat the 1 cup olive oil to 375 degrees F and fry each chicken breast until golden brown. If you are baking the chicken, place the sheet tray in a 350 degree oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Place the chicken breasts on a plate, on top of cooked pasta or on the bottom piece of sandwich bread. Pour warm marinara over the top of the chicken and top with the mozzarella and grated parmigiano.
Place the chicken parmesan under a broiler for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble.
Sprinkle with the fresh basil and serve!