Michelle’s birthday was earlier this week and with every birthday we have in our little family, the person celebrating gets to pick what they might like to have for their birthday meal. Since she travels a lot for business, she doesn’t always get the chance to enjoy a lot of home-cooked meals so I wanted to be sure to make something for her that I know she really enjoys. Since I typically do not make a lot of dishes that involve cheese or pasta and these are two of her favorites, it seemed only fair that I make one of her all-time favorite dishes for her birthday – chicken Parmesan. Chicken Parmesan is one of those meals that many people say they love but not it is often relegated to something you order out when you go to an Italian place and are not sure about what to get. The fact is that it is pretty easy for you to make on your own, requiring just a little bit of effort and ingredients, so that you can make a good meal. I used this recipe from Melissa Clark at New York Times Cooking this go around to turn out a flavorful meal.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, turkey or pork cutlets (or use chicken thighs for even more flavor)
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 to 3 cups panko bread crumbs, as needed
Kosher salt, as needed
Black pepper, as needed
Olive oil, for frying
5 cups Simple Tomato Sauce (see recipe below) or your favorite store-bought or homemade sauce
1 cup finely grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ pound fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized pieces
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the cutlets between two pieces of parchment or plastic wrap. Using a kitchen mallet or rolling pin, pound the meat to even 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Place the flour, eggs and panko bread crumbs into three wide, shallow bowls. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Dip a piece in the flour, then the eggs (shaking off any excess), then coat with the panko. Repeat the process until all the meat is coated.
Fill a large skillet with 1/2-inch of the olive oil. Place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, fry the cutlets in batches, turning each halfway through the cooking process, until they are just golden brown in color, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cutlets to a paper towel-lined plate.
Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle one-third of the Parmesan cheese over the sauce. Place half of the cutlets over the Parmesan and top the cutlets with half the mozzarella pieces. Top the cutlets again with half the remaining sauce, sprinkle with another third of the Parmesan, and repeat layering, ending with a final layer of sauce and Parmesan.
Transfer the pan to the oven and bake the cutlets until the cheese is golden and the casserole is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let the chicken Parmesan cool a few minutes before serving.
For the Sauce:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes (optional)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole or diced plum tomatoes
2 sprigs basil or 1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper
In a large, straight-sided skillet set over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until it is just lightly golden. Add the chile flakes if desired and cook for 30 seconds.
Stir in the tomatoes and the juices, basil or bay leaf, and salt and pepper.
Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thick and the tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the sauce at a steady simmer. If you are using whole plum tomatoes, mash them up with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to help them break down. Remove the sauce from the heat and discard the basil or bay leaf.
The recipe itself is quite simple; you just need to do some of the prep work to get the chicken ready for frying. I used as little oil as I could so that there is minimal grease and frying and the chicken turns out very nice and crisp thanks to the panko. The layering then becomes the key so that you can get a really nice mix of the Parmesan, crispy chicken, sauce and fresh mozzarella. The cooking process leaves you with very tender yet crispy chicken with a great blend of flavors. You could use breasts or thighs here or even use turkey or pork or eggplant instead if you prefer. The process is still the same no matter the protein. Pounding it flat helps to ensure even cooking overall. I served this with some pasta and having some nice crunchy bread or garlic bread and a salad to go with it can help to round out the meal. The recipe makes plenty (it says six servings, but I think there is more), and we had leftovers that make for great lunches or to have as a chicken Parmesan sandwich at another time. The sauce recipe is a nice one as well – very easy to make with a hint of heat – and it makes more than enough for the chicken, but you can always use your favorite tomato sauce from the store instead if you like.
That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for another recipe. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!