How to Make Chicken Parmesan
Also Known as Chicken Parmigiana or Pollo Alla Parmigiana
One of the most famous Italian dishes in America, Chicken Parmesan is a variation of the classic southern Italian dish, Eggplant Parmigiana. Although the term “parmigiana” comes from the northern Italian city of Parma, eggplant parmigiana originated in southern Italy. Some say Campania, others Sicily.
Who Created Chicken Parmesan?
The exact origin of Chicken Parmesan (or Chicken Parmigiana) is uncertain, and there are multiple claims and theories regarding its invention. It is believed to have emerged in the United States within Italian American communities, where variations of breaded and fried meats with tomato sauce and cheese were popular.
One theory suggests that Chicken Parmesan was created by Italian immigrants or Italian American chefs as an adaptation of traditional Italian dishes like Eggplant Parmigiana (Melanzane alla Parmigiana) or Veal Parmigiana (Cotoletta alla Parmigiana). In these dishes, eggplant or veal cutlets are layered with tomato sauce and cheese, then baked or fried. The substitution of chicken cutlets for eggplant or veal is said to have given rise to the Chicken Parmesan we know today.
Another theory attributes the invention of Chicken Parmesan to Italian American immigrants in the northeastern United States, particularly in the New York area. It is said to have gained popularity in Italian American restaurants in the mid-20th century as a flavorful and satisfying dish.
The specific origin and inventor of Chicken Parmesan remain uncertain due to the dish's evolution within Italian American communities over time. It is important to note that culinary creations often emerge through a process of cultural adaptation, blending traditions, and incorporating local ingredients and tastes.
Chicken Parmesan has become a beloved and widely recognized dish in Italian American cuisine regardless of its precise origin. It reflects the culinary creativity and fusion of Italian immigrants in the United States, which continues to be enjoyed in Italian American restaurants and households today.
Where Does the Name Chicken Parmesan Come From?
I find it interesting that most Americans, including myself, have thought the dish was named for Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, one of the ingredients often used in preparing it.
If you search for Chicken Parmesan, you will find dozens of variations, some using Parmesan, some Pecorino, and others Mozzarella. Ricco DeLuca, one of my favorite chefs, taught me to use Munster cheese, my favorite version.
Another theory about how Parmigiana got its name is described by Anna Pomar in her book La Cucina Tradizionale Siciliana. She says Parmigiana “is the Italianization of the Sicilian dialectal word “parmigiana,” which refers to the slats of wood which compose the central part of a shutter and overlap in the same manner as the slices of eggplant in the dish.”
This recipe calls for my Basic Tomato Sauce and shows why it is essential to my cooking. As you will see, my basic tomato sauce is excellent as a base for numerous pasta sauces, but it is also an essential ingredient in my chicken Parmesan recipe.
What Cheese to Use?
The use of the term "Chicken Parmesan" can vary depending on regional preferences and individual interpretations. While some recipes and restaurants use mozzarella cheese to prepare Chicken Parmesan, the traditional Italian Parmigiana dishes typically feature Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a hard cheese with a distinct nutty flavor.
The term "Parmesan" in Chicken Parmesan refers to the style of the dish rather than the specific type of cheese used. It is believed to have been derived from the original Italian dish, Eggplant Parmigiana (Melanzane alla Parmigiana), made with layers of breaded and fried eggplant, tomato sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
In the American adaptation of Chicken Parmesan, mozzarella cheese is often used instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mozzarella is a more meltable cheese that provides a gooey, stringy texture when melted, which many prefer in Italian American cuisine. Mozzarella's mild and creamy flavor also complements the chicken and tomato sauce in the dish.
The use of mozzarella in Chicken Parmesan is a variation that has become popular and widely accepted in American Italian cuisine. It is worth noting that regional differences and personal preferences can influence the specific cheese choices in Chicken Parmesan recipes.
Ultimately, the name "Chicken Parmesan" has become a widely recognized term for breaded and fried chicken cutlets topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese, regardless of the type of cheese used.
Although more expensive, parmesan cheese, whose processing method has stayed the same in the last 700 years, is usually aged for two years.
Two reasons why Parmigiano-Reggiano has better taste and consistency than other Parmesan cheeses;
- the flavor of the milk comes from cows on strictly controlled diets and
- the strict production codes dating back centuries.
Mozzarella (maht-suh-REHL-lah) is a soft white cheese with a mild flavor typically made from cow’s milk. It came from southern Italy, originally made from water buffalo milk.
Try it if you can find real buffalo mozzarella in your local market. Although expensive, it’s like eating ice cream compared to frozen yogurt.
Chicken Parmesan Recipe
- Whisk the eggs and water together in one bowl and stir the Parmesan cheese into the breadcrumbs in another bowl.
- Keeping one hand for dry ingredients and the other for wet ingredients, dredge the breasts in the flour, coating both sides, then the egg/water mixture, and then the Parmesan/breadcrumb mixture.
- Sauté the breasts in the olive oil for one minute on each side in an ovenproof sauté pan until the breasts are golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan; your chicken breasts will steam and not sauté properly. (If you don’t have an oven-proof sauté (frying) pan, sauté in your pan and transfer to a casserole dish.
- Remove from heat, cover the breasts with basic tomato sauce and top with slices of mozzarella.
- Cook in the oven until the chicken is done, approximately 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts.
- Remove from oven and serve.
Some of My Favorite Chicken Recipes
- Chicken Baked in Cornbread Recipe
- Sheet Pan Chicken with Roasted Plums Potatoes and Onions
- Quick and Easy Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe
- Chicken Mushroom and Spinach Comfort Food Recipe
- Southern California Style Chicken with Rice and Beans Recipe
- Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms and Artichoke Hearts Recipe
- Simple Chicken - Tomato - Pasta Recipe
- Chicken Korma Recipe