Things a Monkey Could Cook: Chicken Parmesan
Well today I feel the urge to get back to basics and talk about one of the fundamental keys to happiness in our home, which is breaded fried chicken and the six million and one things that can sit on the plate alongside it. Melt your favorite cheese on it, put it inside a sub roll with some onions and peppers, cozy it up to pasta, put it next to my zucchini and tomato casserole with French bread on the side, or perhaps a simple-yet-succulent green salad….
I could go on and on of course, but I knew that this particular variation belonged in my book because so many people love this dish, even though everybody also knows that all that breading and frying is kinda tedious and messy, and so people flock in droves to restaurants or their groceteria’s freezer where they often settle for what I’ve come to feel is a cheap, marginally healthy substitute for the essentially very simple succulence you’ll find below.
However, I warn you: once you’ve done this, it’ll be tough to settle for less, which really is an especially good thing despite the cleanup, since you are what you eat.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups fresh bread crumbs
- 1 egg + 1 tablespoon water
- olive, canola, or vegetable oil for frying
- ½ lb. mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 cups tomato sauce of choice
Wash and dry the chicken pieces, and usually they’ll be big enough that you’ll need to slice them through the thickest part of meat—either lengthwise to make two long strips, or horizontally to turn that section into two separate slices—requiring some careful knife-work, but if you don’t do this your chicken may burn on the outside before the inside’s devoid of color. Some people instead pound it thin with a meat mallet—something that works fine if what you’re looking at seems nearly thin enough already….
Place the chicken pieces in a plastic bag, throw in the flour, close the bag, and shake it until your poultry’s coated.
Make sure the bread crumbs are in a nice big bowl, while remembering that the term fresh in this case really means not dry or toasted. They’re made by crumbling up day-old leftover bread into tiny pieces—either using a food processor or by hand with the patience of Job—and should be made from a loaf whose flavor will not conflict with the rest of your meal. For instance, in this case pumpernickel would definitely be pushing the culinary envelope.
Also, those with experience may notice that I don’t season my bread crumbs with salt, or pepper, or oregano, or anything else. The bread it’s made from has a certain amount of salt already of course, and I’m always on the lookout for ways to cut salt. Plus, I can never bring myself to mix pricey stuff like oregano into anything that may not be used completely, and so I rely on the cheese and sauce that usually go on top to add distinctive flavor.
Beat the egg and the water until foamy in a bowl large enough to accommodate both a large chicken piece and a certain amount of splashing.
Using a fork, dip your flour-coated pieces into the beaten eggs, and then roll them in the bread crumbs; and for best results, be sure to let the egg drip a little before moving on, followed by gently shaking off excess bread crumbs and laying them on a roomy plate that you’ll soon be placing by the stove.
Put a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat and fill it 1/3 full with the oil of your choice. Olive oil’s expensive, but deliciously authentic in this case, as well as being the very best choice in terms of beginner success rates because it smokes at a higher temperature than many others. Canola oil is almost tasteless, which can often be a good thing. Vegetable oil’s nearly the same, and a fine choice for those with a tight budget.
After about 5 minutes, test the oil by dropping in a few bread crumbs to see if vigorous sizzling ensues. Once it’s ready, add the chicken pieces and fry them until you can see the edges on the bottom turn nice and brown. Then turn them and fry similarly—the goal being of course to get the inside done before the outside burns. This is something, you may recall, that won’t be a problem if you did your knife-work correctly.
Remove your perfectly fried chicken on to paper towels to drain, while resisting the urge to just eat it right then and there….
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while you arrange the chicken on a baking sheet and cover it with slices of the mozzarella—putting it into the oven just long enough to melt the cheese.
Place this fabulous fruit of your labor on a plate, top with tomato sauce, sprinkle with the parmesan.