Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chicken Parmesan “To Go” [Zack]

I have always loved chicken parmesan ever since I can remember.  To my young palate, a good chicken parmesan defined the quality of the Italian restaurant.  Since I couldn’t get enough of it, we always begged my Mom to make it for us if we hadn’t had our fix for a while.  Hers was always better than the restaurants anyways… 

This dish is a great introduction to learn how to cook a simple Italian meal because it teaches you a few cooking techniques.  You will learn how to cook a chicken breast that won’t be dry and sad, whip up a very simple and clean tomato sauce, and have a meal that you can heat up in the oven when you are too busy to cook during the week. 

This recipe is dubbed “To Go” because one of our friends had eye surgery and we decided to make her dinner while she was cooped up in her house recovering.  We wanted to make sure that she didn’t have to do anything but pop 2 containers into an oven, and then eat it when the timer goes off.  As a working parent, or if you are just a busy dude, this recipe is great for when you need a meal in a flash.  You can freeze this in batches - when you want it for dinner, put it in the fridge the night before you want to eat it.  Come home, heat it up and dinner is served! 


First, start your fast tomato sauce by adding ¼ cup of olive oil in the bottom of a cold pot with the smashed garlic cloves and basil leaves. 

Bring this up to medium heat.  Once it starts sizzling and before your garlic starts browning, add in your tomato puree and the diced fresh tomatoes and turn down the heat to low.  Let this simmer for 30 minutes or so until you have finished making your chicken.

Place breadcrumbs onto a plate and beat 2 eggs in a bowl.  Season the breadcrumbs with a bit of salt and pepper and some herbs if desired (if not using store-bought).  Place the chicken breasts on a cutting board and cover the first one with plastic wrap (so chicken doesn’t go flying around your kitchen).  Use a heavy blunt object and pound out the breast to an even 1/2 inch thickness.  Don’t try to smash it - use medium force. 

Why pound out chicken breasts you say?
·         It will make the breast tender by breaking up the fibers
·         It’s fun and it sounds like you are cooking your ass off
·         It is way easier to cook (even thickness = no dry thin edges)
·         If you had you had a bad day at work

Dip the chicken breasts into the egg, let it drip off a bit, then roll it in the breadcrumbs until it is covered. 


Heat a pan to medium heat with a good coating of oil on the bottom and add the chicken breasts when it has come up to temperature.  Lightly fry the chicken breasts until golden on both sides.  Don’t worry about under cooking it slightly because it will finish in the oven.

Your red sauce should look beautiful now.  Lightly cover the bottom of your baking dish with the sauce, then add in the chicken pieces Tetris-style.  Another light layer of the red sauce, then go as crazy as you want with the cheese.   I like putting the motz down first, then the romano because it browns nicely then!


Either toss the whole shebang uncovered into the oven right then at 400F / 200C or wait until it cools off and then cover and freeze.  If properly thawed, it should cook in about 20-30 minutes with a nicely-browned cheese on top!


Before you start your tomato sauce, cut up some vegetables (I like eggplants, squash, red peppers, and shallots) and toss in olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few T of balsamic vinegar.  Put these in the oven while it is pre-heating and they finish right around the same time your chicken is ready.  You can also freeze these and re-heat them the same time as the chicken parm.

Recipe (can be doubled or tripled for multiple batches for your freezer):
2 lbs or 1kg of free range chicken breasts*
½ cup of breadcrumbs
2 large eggs beaten
Herbs if you are feeling fancy (thyme, rosemary, parsley, etc)
1-2 cups of shredded mozzarella and pecorino romano
½ cup oil for frying.

Tomato sauce – you will have some left over to freeze or use in another dish!
2 cloves garlic, smashed
¼ cup olive oil
Handful of basil leaves
2 x 750g containers or 26 oz of tomato sauce
A few fresh tomatoes diced

Roasted veggie side:
1 sliced eggplant (or 2 smaller Japanese eggplants if you can find em)
1 sliced squash or zucchini
1 red pepper de-seeded and sliced
1 large sliced onion
2 T balsamic vinegar
3 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

* Free range chickens are way happier and taste a ton better.  In my mind, if you are going to go through the trouble of making something from scratch, may as well pay the extra dollar to have a better tasting and healthier meal!

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