Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chicken Parm: Not From Jersey

Ryan and I got engaged about a week and a half ago. Our wedding is planned for October 2012 which is a ways out but we're planning our nuptials to take place in Italy. We've been learning to speak the language which pretty much makes us cultured and fascinating people. Come to find out that Italian much more poetic sounding than The Sopranos makes it out to be, although that could just be because we're learning it without a thick New Jersey accent.

I told Ry that I'd learn to make some classic Italian dishes and the first one I tried was chicken Parmesan (or "chicken parm" as Carmela Soprano says it). I started by doing a little research because I wanted to make it like the Italians do. What I learned is that, like pizza, chicken parm differs by region. In it's infancy it was called parmigiana and made with things like portabello mushrooms or eggplant. Leave it to the Southern Italians to make something hearty out of just vegetables. The Southern Italians continue to use earthy vegetables instead of meat for this dish. The breaded meat cutlets that we traditionally think of was popularized in countries other than Italy but where there was a lot of Italian immigration. Essentially the dish consists of chicken, tomato sauce, and cheese. Obviously there are other elements but that's the basic makeup of it.


2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
4 Tblsp. good olive oil
Fresh Thyme
Fresh Rosemary
Fresh Oregano
Tomato Sauce (see below)
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Bread Crumbs

1. Preheat oven to about 400 degrees. Remove leaves from fresh herbs and mix them in with the oil. Put chicken and oil in a Ziploc bag and make sure the chicken is well coated with both oil and herbs.

2. Combine bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Dredge chicken through, making sure both sides are coated.

3. Place chicken in an oiled, preheated skillet. Sear on both sides and place on a baking sheet. Put in oven and back for approx. 20 minutes.

4. Pull out of the oven and smoother with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. Place back in oven for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and just starting to turn golden brown.

My humble opinion is that no matter what you're making, the sauce is the most important element. If your sauce sucks, your meal sucks. End of story. I've become a big fan of concocting sauces although in my kitchen, it's a time-consuming project as I don't own a food processor. So, instead I spend a lot of time chopping until all the elements are properly minced. A basic tomato sauce is pretty simple as long as you don't over-salt it, which is easy to do. A few tips for tomato sauce:

  • Make sure your pan has oil and is hot before you put anything else into it.
  • Once your pan is hot, put your garlic in first and only let it be in by itself for about 20-30 seconds until you add the tomatoes. This allows the garlic to release that savory flavor that everyone is so fond of.
  • Tomato sauce needs sugar. Not a lot but definitely some. Without sugar, it will always taste like it's missing something.
  • It's near impossible to put in too many fresh herbs. Believe me, I've tried.
  • Less is more. Don't get caught up with adding a bunch of spices. Too many ingredients will make the flavor muddy. I generally stick with tomato, garlic, oil, salt, pepper and whatever fresh herbs I'm feeling like that day.

I like to make sauces in bulk, especially ones that I use a lot, like tomato sauce. Once created, you can freeze it for up to a year. However, if you don't have the time or patience to dedicate to homemade tomato, you can purchase some and add your own flavors to it or use marinara sauce from the store.

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