Soggy Chicken Parm Sucks. Eat This Instead.
Daniel has clearly been on a bit of a chicken frying kick lately: First this Szechuan-spiced fried chicken, now his take on chicken parm (rejiggered so that the chicken stays totally crisp). I have to say, there might be something to this...
This won't take long. First, a couple facts:
1) Chicken Parmesan is one of my favorite foods. To this day, when I walk through the door of my childhood pizza place, they'll automatically start making a chicken parm "sub" (in Massachusetts that's what we call heroes, aka grinders, aka hoagies, aka torpedos, aka long sandwiches).
2) Still, there's something that's always bothered me about a classic chicken parm. You take a chicken cutlet, dredge it in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, and pan-fry it until it's brown and crisp. A suspicious start to say the least. But then you spoon tomato sauce (wet!) over the top, blanket the whole thing in cheese, and toss it in the oven or broiler. If you're lucky, the cheese will melt quickly enough for the chicken to retain some of its original crunch, but in most cases
it's too late; the tomato sauce does its thing, seeps into the crispy breadcrumb coating, and you wind up with soggy chicken.
For me, this is a problem. Fortunately, it's not a hard problem to solve. Chicken parm consists of three elements: crispy chicken cutlets, tomato sauce, and melted cheese. All you need to do is reorder them.
This lifetime of heartbreak is what eventually led, a few weeks ago (I'm embarrassed that it took so long), to my rendition of chicken parm 2.0. You make the tomato sauce like you would make any other tomato sauce: sautéed garlic, canned tomatoes, seasonings, whatever you like. Just don't let it near the chicken. DON'T LET IT NEAR THE CHICKEN! You dredge and fry the cutlets as normal. To maximize crispiness, I use panko breadcrumbs and fry the chicken in a little more oil (about an inch) than you might normally use when making parm. As soon as the cutlets are nicely browned and cooked all the way though, drain them on a rack or paper towels. They're crunchy; this will help them stay that way.
If there's a whiff of innovation in this recipe (there probably isn't), it's the cheese. If the goal is to keep the chicken pure and crisp, then you ideally don't want to suffocate it with cheese. So what you do is basically make an Italian-American version of Queso Fundido (aka a skillet of cheese cooked in the broiler until it's bubbling, browned, and melty). I use a combination of grated mozzarella (the low-moisture kind that comes in a bag; not fresh mozzarella balls) and provolone, and my trusty cast iron pan. I throw some minced garlic in there too because what the hell.
So, now you have your three components ready to go. The tomato sauce goes on the bottom of the plate, the gooey cheese on top of that, and the perfectly crisp chicken on top of that. Some basil and Parmesan for garnish because we're not barbarians, and that's it. (You can obviously serve this with anything you want on the side, but honestly nothing other than Caesar salad and garlic bread has ever crossed my narrow mind as a viable option.)
The "recipe" is below (you'll see it's a little more like an oral history, but it'll get you from point A to point B). I may keep experimenting, but I'm pretty sure that when it comes to chicken parm this is my new normal.
Have you lived your entire life suffering from the ill effects of soggy chicken parm? No? Well, this version still tastes really good. Check it out.
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Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.