Friday, March 13, 2009

Chicken alla Parmagiana My Way

I love chicken parmesan but I never order the gooey, overly cheesy versions found at most restaurants since coming up with this version. I made this last night with some really delicious creamy mozzarella, but I missed the smoked mozzarella that I usually favor here. My recipe uses all the typical components but instead of frying the breaded chicken breasts in oil, I crisp up the breadcrumbs by broiling the breaded chicken breasts for a few minutes, then topping with the sauce and the cheese and putting it back under the broiler. The result is a much lighter variation of the original with all of the crunch. I've grown to prefer the meaty almost bacon like flavor of smoke mozzarella in most situations that call for mozzarella since discovering a purveryor at my farmers market, but any kind of mozzarella will do, whether artisanal or pre-shredded from the bag.

This is one of those rare recipes of my own that I posted to Epicurious in my own recipe box. When I first started making this I sort of enjoyed bashing the heck out of those breasts using a frying pan. Now I just butterfly them open which is a lot less hassle.

Chicken alla Parmagiana
Serves 4

2 chicken breast halves, about 12 ounces each
salt and pepper
1 cup flour
2 eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk
1 1/2 to 2 cups bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs seasoned with 1 tablespoon dried thyme or oregano
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, optional
2 cups of your favorite pasta sauce (homemade is ideal)
4 ounces smoked mozzarella, cut into 6 to 8 slices

grated parmesan, optional
chopped parsley, optional

First, pound out the chicken breasts to a half inch thickness. I place the chicken breasts in a zip top bag or between to sheets of plastic wrap and whack at it with a small fying pan. Pounding out chicken breasts can be enormously stress reducing but don't be too overzealous as you want to keep the breast in one piece. Alternatively carefully butterfly the breast halves by slicing them in half: place your hand on top of the breast, place the knife blade parallel to the cutting board and carefully slice into the breast but not all the way through. Open the breast like a book and you've got a butterflied breast, as demoed here on Youtube.

Place an oven rack at the second level down from your broiler element (assuming you've got an oven like mine with the broiler element in the top of the oven) and turn on the broiler. Line a large baking sheet with foil and smear with a thin film of olive oil if you feel like it. Season each chicken breast generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Set up your breading station in three large flat bowls or baking dishes: first flour, then the egg, and finally the bread or panko crumbs. Drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil over the bread crumbs and mix in before dredging. This will help the bread crumbs to crisp up nicely. Dredge the flattened chicken breast in flour on both sides and shake off the excess. Next, coat the same piece in the egg wash, letting the excess drip off. Finally, lay it in the bread crumbs. Use your fingers to spread bread crumbs on top of the chicken breast, pressing down to make sure the crumbs stick and that the breast is completely coated. Place on the baking sheet and repeat with the other flattened chicken breast. Drizzle the top of the chicken breast lighltly with olive oil if desired.

Broil the two breasts for five minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they brown but do not burn! Turn them over and broil for another three minutes on the second side. Remove from the oven.

Spoon about 1 cup of sauce all over each chicken breast and lay the slices of mozzarella on top of the sauce. Place the chicken back under the broiler for another two to three minutes until the sauce is heated and the cheese is melted and browned slightly. Remove from the oven and move the chicken to a cutting board. Cut each piece in half, garnish with grated parmesan and parsley if using and serve immediately with a side of spaghetti, sauteed broccoli rabe, and a glass of chianti! A red checkered tablecloth is also optional. Buon Appetito!

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