Chicken Parmigiana, Perfected

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What’s not to like about chicken parmesan? It brings together three tasty components: breaded chicken, savory tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. All delicious on their own; theoretically, even better when brought together. But it isn’t always as simple as that: There are tips and tricks to making sure that all of the ingredients work neatly together, rather than having one part drown out the other two.

Make chicken parmesan right, and you have something that’s incredibly versatile: it works nicely as the main dish in a hearty dinner, or as the center of a delicious sandwich. We talked with two experts in the field to get their tips on making great chicken parmesan. Craig Koketsu, chef/partner at New York’s Quality Italian, has earned rave reviews for a chicken parmesan that’s served in a pizza-like fashion. And AJ Walker, chef de cuisine of Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats, has also garnered acclaim for the chicken parm sandwich found there. Here’s what we learned from them.

Balance is important.
Chicken parmesan is a combination of chicken, sauce, and cheese — each of which brings something noteworthy to the dish, and helps blend a host of recognizably rich and savory flavors. Koketsu described his ideal chicken parmesan as “a balance of the crispy breaded chicken with just enough tomato sauce to balance out the richness of the chicken and gooey, melted cheese.” Needless to say, if you overdo any one of the three, you’ll end up overwhelming the other two, and have a mess on the plate in front of you. Koketsu uses a simple formula to keep track of how to balance those three elements: “The ratio should be roughly 3-2-1: meat-cheese-sauce.”

Season the chicken in steps.
Without the right seasoning, you’ll end up with some very bland chicken parmesan — and why have bland food when you have a whole host of spices to choose from? Walker recommends a gradual approach to seasoning — and not just to the meat itself. “We season the chicken itself when it's raw,” he said. “We season the eggs with parmesan, and then a light seasoning of salt when it comes out of the pan.”

Know your cuts of chicken.
The taste of chicken parmesan is a combination of flavors, but it’s not going to be satisfying if you skimp on the chicken. Koketsu recommends thinking a little unconventionally when shopping for cuts of meat to use when preparing the dish. “Most people use only the breast,” he said, “but thigh meat is greatly underrated.” And if you’re planning to make a chicken parm sandwich, finding the right thickness is also important. “I think 1/4 inch piece of chicken is perfect,” Walker said.

When making a sandwich, don’t neglect the bread.
For Walker, a consistent taste is vital to making a good chicken parmesan — and that means finding the right kind of bread. “You have to look at a sandwich as something that has to taste the same with every bite.” Everything has to be evenly layered and spread out,” he said. “As far a chicken parm goes, I think it's about having a bright tomato sauce, well-melted cheese and a softer bread. Really crusty bread is great, but on a sandwich it tends to tear the roof of your mouth up.”

Parm #2 at Publican Quality Meats by Chef AJ Walker

Ingredients 

  • 2 breaded pieces of chicken breast
  • 2 hoagie rolls
  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup of parmesan
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 4 sage leaves, fried

Ingredients for breading chicken

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 cup ap flour + 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 eggs mixed with 2 tsp chile flake
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan
  • 2 cups panko

Directions for breading chicken

  1. Cut chicken breast in half lengthwise. Place between a layer of plastic wrap and pound until 1/4inch thick. Lightly salt chicken. Place chicken in ap flour, shake off excess. Dunk in egg mixture, shake off excess. Place in panko until fully covered.

Directions for cooking chicken

  1. Heat pan over medium heat and put a 1/8 inch layer of canola oil. Put chicken breast in pan and cook until golden brown on one side, flipping to other side to finish cooking. Once chicken is flipped, add sage leaves and fry in oil until crispy. Place chicken on a rack and season with salt.

Ingredients for tomato sauce

  • 1 can peeled tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 sprig fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • salt and pepper

Directions for tomato sauce

  1. Add all ingredients except salt and pepper to a blender. Puree and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Directions for sandwich assembly

  1. Split hoagie rolls and toast in broiler until golden brown. Coat toasted side of the buns in tomato sauce. Place mozzarella slices on top side of bun, sprinkle with salt and pepper, put parmesan on bottom side. Put the bread back in the broiler until cheese is melted. Put fried chicken on the sandwich and crumble fried sage over top.