Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Golden" Oldies: Parmesan-Crusted Chicken

I believe DC suffers from what brilliant foodwriter Crescent Dragonwagon calls "Missing Porkchop Syndrome." When he thinks about a "vegetarian" meal, I bet he pictures a plate of food with a big blank spot in the middle where the porkchop should be.

Since he is such a dedicated carnivore, I made some Parmesan-Crusted Chicken to go with the (vegetarian) Spaghetti with Tomato Basil Sauce we had last night. Golden, crisp and juicy Chicken Parmesan is such an Italian restaurant classic it's almost a culinary cliche-- but it's definitely in the camp of "an oldie but a goodie." It is awfully good!

I've adapted a recipe from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Family Style. Ina's dish is fancier than mine, as she serves the chicken topped with fresh, tangy salad greens and a lemon vinaigrette. I skipped all that since DC wanted his chicken on top of his pasta (essentially "old-skool" chicken parm.)

This "recipe" is really more of a technique than a recipe. It's very flexible. I made 3 servings; you can easily expand this to serve as many as you wish by adding additional chicken breasts. Actually, I find that when the chicken is pounded, each piece is so huge, I can only eat 1/2 of it. (I know this makes no sense, as it's the same amount of chicken as before the pounding, but halfway through the chicken, I get full!)

Although it looks a little complicated, it's actually a fairly simple dish to make.

Essentially, you are breading and then pan-frying pounded chicken breast fillets. The chicken is dipped first in flour (to create a dry surface so the egg will stick), then in a seasoned egg mixure, which is the "glue," and finally in some crispy breadcrumbs.

I always set up an "assembly line" of components on the counter and move from left to right.

Williams-Sonoma even sells a little set of 3 breading pans that are linked together to create your assembly line. (I find this amusing and personally would never buy this, but if it would encourage you to make this delicious dish, go for it!)

The "assembly line" ingredients are pretty forgiving-- you don't have to use exact measurements. The important thing is making sure each piece of chicken gets all the components: flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, in that order.

If you start running low on one component or another as you are dipping the chicken, just add more of whatever you need to its little dish. The most important part is the egg mixture, and I use about 1 c. grated parmesan for every 2 eggs. Add more or less cheese to your taste. You'll want to add salt and pepper to this as needed.

This is where I like to do things a little differently than Ina does. She seasons the flour and mixes the parmesan cheese with the breadcrumbs. I don't like to do it this way, because, since you probably won't use up all your flour, each piece of chicken doesn't get is fair share of salt and pepper. I also find that including the parmesan in the final coating can cause it to burn fairly easily. You don't want the breading to taste like burned toast!

By seasoning the egg mixture rather than the dry ingredients, each piece of chicken is sure to get seasoned and putting the cheese in with the eggs ensures that each piece gets plenty of parmesan, and also, since the cheese is covered by breadcrumbs, it doesn't burn. (I learned this great tip from watching Eleanora Scarpetta make Eggplant Parm on TV.)

Here is what you will need to make this tasty chicken.


Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, with the tenders removed (1/2 a breast per serving)
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 extra-large eggs
1 c. shredded Parmesan cheese (preferably imported parmigiano reggiano)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
2 c. Italian seasoned dry breadcrumbs
Unsalted butter
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Food safety note: to avoid cross-contamination of cooked and raw foods, it's a good idea to use separate cutting boards for foods that are safe to eat as they are (fruits, vegetables, cheeses, cooked foods) and raw meat. I only use my white cutting board for raw meat. My orange and green ones are for foods safe to eat as-is (like the broccoflower below). I never cut anything except raw fish or meat on my white cutting board. I also always immediately wash, dry, and put away any knife I use to cut raw meat so it is safe to use again on anything. I also wash and sanitize my white cutting board immediately after use, and put it in the dishwasher.
Here's a quick sanitizing solution you can make that is safe to use on food-contact surfaces:
Mix one quart of water with 1 t. chlorine bleach. Soak the item being sanitized in the solution, or keep it wet with the solution for 10 minutes. Allow to air dry. Please note, however, that the item must be washed clean of all food particles with hot sudsy water before applying the sanitizing solution.

1. Separate the skinless, boneless chicken breasts into halves (remove the tenderloin and discard or reserve for another purpose.)

Using a meat mallet or a rolling pin, pound each piece of chicken until it is 1/4 in. thick. It'll spread quite a bit when you do this. Place the pounded chicken on a plate.

Why do this?
Pounding the chicken tenderizes it, makes each piece of meat of uniform thickness throughout (more or less!) so it cooks evenly, and since the pieces are thinner, they cook more quickly and don't dry out.

I have a giant, heavy-duty, ergonomically-correct "mallet" for pounding that we call The Smacker. I love using The Smacker! True, it makes quite a racket (I'm sure the neighbors wonder what the heck I'm doing :D), but it's a great stress reliever :)

The Smacker in action!

Here is a tip for easier pounding:
Take a gallon-size ziptop bag and slit open one of the sides. Leave the top zipped. Lay the bag down on the counter. Slide each piece of chicken into the bag through the opening in the side of the bag.

Try to get the chicken piece kind of centered in there, as it will spread as it gets thinner, and you don't want to run out of real estate. Hold the slit side of the bag closed with one hand and pound the chicken with the other (using the tool of your choice).

When the chicken is thin enough, remove through the side of the bag. The bag is tough enough to withstand the pounding, and prevents raw meat or meat juices from getting on the counter.
No muss, no fuss!

Pounded chicken breast

2. Set up your chicken "assembly line." I prefer to use a separate glass pie plate for each component; a 9" square glass pan also works, rather than a dinner plate. I find it easier to work when the sides are a little higher and the bottom is flat so I don't make such a mess on the counter! Of course, use whatever you like!

Set it up in a row like this:

  • First, the plate of pounded chicken.
  • To its right, place the dish with the flour.
  • In the next dish, beat the eggs with the salt and pepper. Then add the cheese and mix well.
  • In the next pie plate, place the breadcrumbs. (Tip: if you don't have seasoned breadcrumbs, you can add some Italian Seasoning herb mix to the crumbs.)
  • Finally, line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper. Place a wire rack on top of the waxed paper. (I'll explain why in a moment.)

3. Grab a piece of chicken. Dip both sides of the chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess. Next, dip both sides of the chicken in the egg mixture. Next, lay the chicken in the breadcrumbs. Press the chicken firmly into the breadcrumbs. Turn the chicken over and press the other side into the crumbs. Finally, lay the breaded chicken breast on the rack. Repeat with the rest of the chicken, adding more flour, egg mixture, or breadcrumbs as needed.




A note about dipping technique: Some cooking professionals advocate using one hand to dip the chicken into the dry ingredients (your "dry" hand) and the other to dip the chicken into the wet ingredients (your "wet" hand). This helps to keep you from breading your fingers along with the chicken. Try it and see how it works for you.

LOL, I always forget and put my "wet" hand into the breadcrumbs! Also, I find that it is just so much easier to use both hands for each step that I don't mind getting them globbed up with ingredients.

4. This is one of my favorite tricks. (I learned this from watching Sara Moulton's terrific show, Sara's Secrets.)

ransfer the baking sheet with the chicken on it to the refrigerator, and let it sit for 15-20 minutes.

Anytime you are breading food, if you let it sit on a rack in the fridge for a while, the breading will stick to the food better. Since it's on a rack, the cold air can circulate all around the food, and this will make the breading crisper when you cook it. You can really tell the difference.

If you don't have time, it's ok to skip this step.

5. Heat 1 T of olive oil and 1 T of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.

6. When hot, add the chicken in batches. Cook for 3 minutes per side, until the crust is golden and the chicken is done. Add fresh butter and oil for each batch of chicken. Place the cooked chicken on a clean plate.

Side 1

Side 2

7. When all the chicken is cooked, serve over spaghetti with tomato sauce, and enjoy!


  1. Uhm, uhm good!
    Parmesan-Crusted Chicken!! Super yummy!
    I also make my tomato sauce thinner, to simmer the pasta prior to serving, like you.

  2. That looks really good, I'm sure my little sister would like something like this.

    I'm sure it would also work with firm fleshed fish filets, my mom prepares fish filets in a similar manner (some recipe from Giada or something)

    She altered it a lot though, she uses "Queso Cotija" instead of parm for that haha.

  3. Hi, Marilyn! I just love what simmering the pasta in the sauce does for the dish! I understand that is how it's done in Italy, but I haven't verified that.

    Thanks for reading!

    :) Karen

  4. Hi, Nathan!

    Yeah, I'm sure it would work great with fish! Your mom is so inventive-- and cotija is so similar to parmesan, I bet it's delicious! Hee, hee-- I'm a Giada fan too. I sure would love to know how that woman stays so skinny! :D


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