A classic dish of Emilia-Romagna, Chicken Parmesan is quick and easy to make at home. With umpteen variations available, many people ask me how to cook this dish so it has distinctive character with great flavor.
Here is the restaurant technique that produces an outstanding version. Very few procedures are needed to produce a juicy and tender chicken breast, but each one is important. We finish the dish with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then pour a melted butter-sage sauce directly over the cheese to soften it. It is really delicious, so you might want to make a double recipe, since many people ask for seconds! Be sure to make extra for a panino the following day.
4 servings. Cooking time is 10 minutes.
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless (8 ounces or 225 g each)
Plastic wrap for pounding
3 cups (12 ounces or 340 g) fine dried breadcrumbs or gluten-free Panko breadcrumbs
3 large eggs, lightly beaten or 3 tablespoons (44 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Oil for frying (corn, sunflower, grapeseed, or peanut)
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces or 45 g) unsalted butter
Fresh sage leaves
Shaved aged Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Pounding the Chicken: Trim off any fat from the chicken breasts. Turn over so the top smooth side is down (the side formerly attached to the skin). The side that was previously attached to the rib cage is up, because this side is easier to pound and stretch. Lengthwise, in the middle of the thickest part of each breast make a 1/4-inch (6-mm) diagonal incision. This helps even out the thickness. Place each breast between large sheets of plastic wrap then pound until the chicken is about 1/4-inch (6-mm) thick, not thinner if you want the chicken juicy. (If you want to stop at this point, keep the chicken in the plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.)
2. Coating the Chicken: Remove the sheet of plastic wrap and discard. Sift the dried breadcrumbs. Season them to taste. Spread out the breadcrumbs on a large plate or cookie sheet. This is an important step because a layer of fine breadcrumbs gives a smoother coating than coarse breadcrumbs. Pour the beaten eggs into a broad bowl.
Breadcrumbs then Beaten Egg or Oil then Breadcrumbs: Follow this technique just before cooking the chicken breasts. If prepared 15 minutes or longer before cooking, the breadcrumb coating becomes soggy.
Dip the pounded breast into the breadcrumbs and press them into the breast. Then dip into the beaten eggs or oil for a few seconds just to thoroughly coat the chicken but not soften the breadcrumbs. Hold the chicken breast up allowing excess beaten egg or oil to drip off. Immediately dip this breast again into the breadcrumbs and press them into the breast. Set aside on a plate. Repeat procedure for each pounded chicken breast. It is normal for your hands to feel sticky; don't be afraid to really, really press the breadcrumbs into the breast. Just make sure the chicken is almost dry-to-the-touch after the final coating of breadcrumbs. This gives a thin crunch to a very tender chicken!
3. Cooking: Get organized. Make sure your serving plates are ready and the cheese is shaved. Place the butter in the pan for melting and have the fresh sage leaves on stand-by. Pour a glass of wine, turn on some music. You will be serving dinner within a few minutes.
Chicken Breasts: In a large non-stick pan pour in enough oil to be 1/4-inch (6-mm) deep. Over high heat, warm the oil until it is hot, 375º F/190º C. If you place your hand a few inches above the oil, you should feel the heat, but it will not be smoking. Sprinkle in a few leftover breadcrumbs if needed; when they turn golden quickly, the oil is ready for frying.
To avoid splashing hot oil, slide each breaded chicken breast into the pan and sear on each side for about 2 minutes. The chicken will turn a beautiful deep golden brown. When done, remove from the pan and transfer to paper towels to absorb any excess oil for a few seconds, and then transfer to serving plates.
Cheese: Place shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano on top of each fried chicken breast.
Butter-Sage Sauce: During the cooking of the chicken, melt the butter over low heat, then add the fresh sage leaves and cook for several seconds. Remove from the heat and reserve. Quickly reheat the melted butter if not hot, without browning the butter. Immediately pour it over the shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano to soften the cheese and coat the chicken. Serve. Enjoy Italian goodness in every bite.