For a few wonderful years, there was an Italian restaurant not far from my parents’ house that everyone in the world generally agreed was fantastic. In all honesty, it probably wasn’t much different from Olive Garden, but we absolutely loved everything they served – from the salads to the desserts to my personal favorite, chicken parmigiana. To the distress of many, that restaurant closed without warning in 2005, and I never got to have their chicken parmigiana again. Even worse, due to what are probably some glaring inefficiencies in the real estate market, the building the restaurant used to occupy continues to be vacant and still displays the restaurant’s name, taunting me every time I drive by.
This was my attempt to recreate that long-ago chicken parmigiana. I’m not sure I quite got there, but this was pretty darn good. It uses a tomato sauce that is much chunkier and spicier, and I really liked the addition of a little extra heat. The breading on the chicken is especially good – panko, parsley, and parmesan cheese. Take a look:
CHICKEN PARMIGIANA (recipe from Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book)
1 cup flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped very small
Olive oil as needed
4 chicken breast halves
salt and pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 an onion, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 28-ounce can diced or crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat broiler to high. Take out three dishes or pie plates; fill one with flour, a second with the beaten eggs, and a third with the bread crumbs, half the parmesan cheese, and the parsley combined.
2. Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. While pan is heating, season chicken with salt and pepper, then coat each one in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs.
3. When oil is hot, cook chicken breasts two at a time until they are golden brown and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes per side depending on thickness. Transfer chicken to paper-towel lined plate and repeat with remaining chicken, adding more oil if needed.
4. While chicken cooks, heat a medium pan over medium heat. Heat up 1 tbsp olive oil, then add the garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped onion, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook 7-8 minutes, stirring often, until onion has softened. Add the tomatoes and heat through, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in 1/2 cup chopped basil. Taste the sauce and season how you like.
5. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in non-glass casserole dish (glass casserole dishes should not go under the broiler). Layer chicken on top and cover with remaining sauce. Top chicken with mozzarella and parmesan cheese and put under broiler until the cheese has melted and is light golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Garnish with basil and serve.
The second time I made this I used full chicken breasts rather than halves, and they took much longer to cook, so it’s helpful to have a meat thermometer nearby (as I almost always do when I’m nervously cooking chicken). Cook time aside, everything turned out perfectly! I made this for my brother-in-law, who is a somewhat picky eater and – shockingly – claimed to have never tried chicken parmigiana before. He ate the whole thing, so he must not have hated it too bad!