Parmigiana is a method of Italian cooking wherein breaded, fried cutlets are layered in cheese and tomato sauce. Originally made with eggplant (Melanzane alla Parmigiana), breaded chicken and veal cutlets are popular as well. There is some dispute as to where this dish came from; logic would dictate that the Northern city of Parma started the craze, but Southern regions Campania and Sicily also stake a claim in this dish. A common misconception is that the dish got its name from its inclusion of Parmesan cheese (despite the fact that mozzarella is the most common cheese used in this dish); but like Chicken Parmesan, Parmesan cheese got its name from the fact that it is produced in the city of Parma.
While Chicken Parmesan is fairly well-known in the US, it’s of monstrous popularity in Australia, where it is called Chicken Parm, Chicken Parma, or even Chicken Parmy. Their take on the dish usually includes french fries, and was named the #37 best food in the world by CNN Traveler a few years back.
My take on the dish is surprisingly similar to the way I made it while working as a line chef many years ago; the only thing that’s changed is the breading ingredients. While plain tapioca or arrowroot starch works well for its first dusting layer, mixing the starch with some potato starch for the outer breading layer gives the outside a crisp texture. If you’re looking for a really authentic, slightly rough texture that only breadcrumbs can provide, you could toast your favorite gluten-free bread, cool it, then blend to make breadcrumbs. But as you’ll see from the pictures below, this simple preparation is pretty awesome, too.
In terms of taste and convenience, I love this Muir Glen sauce. Sure, you could fire-roast your own tomatoes and spend a couple hours making a delicious sauce, but I’ll leave this one to the professionals.
Chicken Parmesan (Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Paleo, Primal)
25.5 oz jar pasta sauce
4 chicken breasts
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup tapioca or arrowroot starch
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup tapioca or arrowroot starch
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil (dried parsley okay)
1/4 cup lard, ghee, or coconut oil
8oz mozzarella cheese, grated (omit to make dairy-free, see notes below)
1. Empty the pasta sauce into a saucepan and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to low to keep warm while you prepare the chicken.
2. Place the chicken flat on a cutting board, then slice the chicken lengthwise to make two thin butterflied cutlets. Gently pound with a meat tenderizer to an even thickness, about 1/2″, then set aside. Prepare three wide, shallow bowls to bread the cutlets. In the first bowl, combine the dusting ingredients. In the second bowl, add the beaten eggs. In the third bowl, add the breading ingredients.
3. Now you’re ready to start cooking. Preheat your oven to 350F. In a large skillet, warm the lard, ghee, or oil over medium/high heat (you’re looking for an oil temp of 325F). Once the oil is warm, dust a chicken breast in the first bowl, then transfer to the second bowl and cover in egg, shake off any excess egg, then cover with the starch in the third bowl. Add to the skillet and repeat for however many breasts you can fit in the skillet at one time (don’t bread the chicken until right before you’re going to add it to the oil).
4. Pan-fry the chicken until golden brown, about three minutes per side, then transfer to a baking sheet. Don’t worry about whether the chicken it cooked through; the oven will finish it off. Add more oil if needed and repeat step #3 until all of the chicken has been pan-fried.
5. Spoon the pasta sauce over the cutlets, then sprinkle on the cheese. Place in the oven to bake until the cheese has melted, about 8 minutes, then broil for 2 minutes or until the cheese is spotty and golden (watch it like a hawk at this point). Remove from the oven and serve.
** It is possible to bake these instead of frying them. To do so, line a baking sheet with a wire rack; bread all of the breasts at once using the process in step #3, then place on the wire rack. Bake at 400F until golden, about 15-20 minutes, flipping at the 10-minute mark. Remove the wire rack, add the sauce and cheese and bake until the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes, then broil for 2 minutes or until the cheese is spotty and golden.
** While fresh mozzarella cheese is typically used in this dish, substituting a harder cheese may be easier on your digestion (aged cheese has been fermented longer).
** I’ve heard good things about this nut milk cheese, if you’re looking to go dairy-free but still want a cheese-like experience.
Adding potato starch to the breading makes it the chicken especially crispy, but sometimes leaves a light white dust on the breading after you fry it; you can see the same thing on my Southern Fried Chicken recipe from a few years back. Not really sure what causes it, but it’s mighty tasty.
The way I decide how much cheese to put on Chicken Parmesan is what I call the “melt-test”. I add some cheese over the warm sauce and watch to see if it starts to melt. If so, I add more until the cheese keep its shape. I use this same idea when making pizza. There isn’t really any science behind it, just a trick I developed when I worked at a pizza parlor nearly 20 years ago. Man, I’m getting old!
This was my son’s first Chicken Parmesan experience. He loved it.