minimalist chicken parmigiana

When I went to Rome, my weirdo boyfriend (who ironically speaks much better ad-hoc Italian than I do) used to start every restaurant meal by declaring we would have to leave immediately since the establishment didn't serve spaghetti and meatballs / fettuccine alfredo. He has a brain, so he never said it loud enough for anybody other than me to hear, but it's like saying bomb on an airplane. There are some jokes you just don't make.

I don't know that there's any recipe-level difference between Chicken Parmigiana and Chicken Parm, the Jersey red-sauce gabbagool rendition you'll only find in Los Angeles if you eat at places named after guys in the rat pack. What I do know is that nowhere in Italy will make you this. But sometimes you just want savory, melty, cheesy saucy magic without wanting a carb as the primary vehicle for that magic, and in those instances, chicken parm(igiana) is here for you.

As much as I'd like to get self-righteous here about the need for a truly homemade sauce for a dish that has so few components (which, yes, I do almost always have frozen in batches and ready to go tyvm), there are plenty of jarred and refrigerator brands I'm willing to accept — Rao's and Michael's of Brooklyn especially. For some reason, jarred sauce to me always tastes unheated even when cooked, but not these. That said, most nights I cook are crappy, tired weeknights. in the event you're not sitting on a stockpile of the homemade stuff, get your jar on. No judgment. Another time I made this, I used smoked mozzarella. We all have our perversions.

Being "minimalist," this really does rep the holy trinity of weeknight cooking: inexpensive to buy, impressively cheesy looking, and surprisingly tidy to make and eat. It would be a great choice if you're trying to persuade a new romantic prospect to stick around in your life (provided that prospect is accepting of garlic and isn't weird about stringy cheese); you could just as easily make this for yourself to eat for the next few days and pair it with a side of sautéd spinach, as I did, and call it a perfectly passable "healthy" meal for a meh Wednesday.

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RECIPE

Effortful time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 (I halved this recipe)

YOU NEED

  • 1 lb chicken cutlets or thin-pounded chicken breasts
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 1 tsp. each parsley, basil, oregano OR 3 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano
  • A few good grinds of pepper
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups marinara sauce, whatever you want
  • 6 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced

MAKE IT

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Over medium-high, heat a heavy-duty skillet and add oil until hot and shimmery, but not smoky.
  3. In a shallow bowl, stir together the crumbs, herbs, salt, pepper, and parm. In another shallow bowl, whip an egg with a fork until smooth. Dip chicken in egg, then into crumbs. Press the crumbs in so they stick. 
  4. Pan-fry the chicken on both sides until golden brown and sizzly, about 3 minutes per side. They will cook through in the oven, so don't worry about whether they're done.
  5. Move the chicken to a plate and let the pan cool a little. Wipe out the dead oil / burned crumb bits. Add the marinara, then lay in the chicken in one layer. Lay a slice or two of mozz on each piece. 
  6. Bake, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melty. I like some broiled crispy color on mine, so I popped it under the broiler on low for 5 minutes, and high for 1 minute.
  7. In the last few minutes, I steamed some spinach. For health.
  8. Serve over your vegetable (or pasta) and spoon some extra sauce on the side for dipping.
  9. I happened to casually have this nice Sangiovese blend hanging around from last month's Winc box, but any red on the light to medium-light side will be pretty fab tbh.