Chicken Parmesan

This dish is an Italian-American classic, but is also unique because it utilizes two flavor profiles that are commonly considered opposed to one another:  Chicken and Marinara Sauce.  We usually think of Classic Marinara Sauce as a sauce that accompanies read meat – beef, sausage, meatballs.  In contrast, we usually think of chicken and seafood as being accompanied by a lighter white sauce comprised of white wine, garlic, olive oil and cream or lemon (although using cream and lemon is usually not such a good thing because lemon makes cream curdle).  Anyhow, the juxtaposing flavors in this classic dish have made it beloved for decades.  This particular recipe makes use of Panko breadcrumbs which produce a dashingly crisp batter combined with juicy, tender chicken cutlets.

Time: 45-60 minutes
Level: Intermediate
Cost: About $4 per plate
Serves: 4- 6


For the Chicken Cutlets

  1.   2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied, sliced through and pounded into cutlets about 1/4 inch thick.
  2. 1/4 cup flour
  3. 1 TBSP Paprika
  4. Salt and Pepper
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 1 TBSP vodka (optional, adds crunch!)
  7. 2 TBSP cream or milk
  8. 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  9. 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  10. 1 TBSP butter (or clarified butter, which you can buy at Trader Joe’s, also called ‘ghee’)
  11. 2 TBSP regular butter
  12. 1-2 TBSP olive oil

For the Marinara Sauce

  1. 2 TBSP olive oil
  2. 1 TBSP butter (or clarified butter)
  3. 4-5 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
  4. 1 small to medium yellow onion, diced
  5. 8oz baby bella or crimini mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on size (optional)
  6. 1 28oz can (or 2 14.5oz cans) whole peeled plum tomatoes (opt for San Marzano if you can get the real thing)
  7. 1 6oz can tomato paste
  8. 2 tsp (or up to 1 TBSP) dried oregano, to taste
  9. Salt and Pepper, to taste
  10. 1.5 cups dry white wine
  11. 1/4 cup brandy (optional, for flambé, or to enhance flavor)
  12. 1 12oz can decent chicken stock
  13. 2 sprigs fresh basil, divided


Prepare Chicken Cutlets As Follows:

Preheat oven to 300F.  Begin heating 3-4 quarts water for pasta.

Set up your chicken dredging station.  You’ll need two, wide shallow dishes and one medium sized bowl.

  • Put the flour in one of the wide, shallow dishes.  Season aggressively with salt and pepper; add paprika and whisk together.
  • In the second wide, shallow dish add Panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.  Whisk together until well mixed.
  • Crack two eggs into the medium sized bowl; add vodka (if using) and cream/milk.  Whisk together until slightly foamy.
  • Set them up in this order:  Flour mixture, egg wash, bread crumb mixture

Heat olive oil and 1 TBSP butter in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat and gently stir to coat the bottom of the pan.  Dredge a chicken cutlet first in the flour mixture (shaking of excess), then dip into the egg wash, and then dredge in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing firmly to adhere to each side.

Note:  If you want exceptionally crispy breading that is almost guaranteed not to fall off your chicken cutlets, do this:  Dredge your cutlets in this order – Egg Wash, Flour, Egg wash, Panko Mixture.  Once breaded, place them on a baking sheet and refrigerate them for 30 minutes before continuing to the next step.

Add cutlet to skillet and fry 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown.  Repeat with remaining cutlets.

Note:  You  can fry more than one at a time, but you’ll probably need to work in batches – every time a cutlet is added to the skillet, it will reduce the over-all temperature, which will hinder browning and increase the possibility of soaking the breading in oil rather than frying it.  I’ve found that 3-4 cutlets at a time is a good number, depending on their size.  You may also need to add more fat to the pan between batches; this is also okay.  If you do, try to keep the olive oil-to-butter ratio at roughly 1:1.

When all the cutlets are browned, place them on a wire rack set on a baking sheet, (or alternatively place them directly on a lightly greased baking sheet, although be warned: skipping the wire rack will make them mushy on the bottom!) and bake them in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until cooked through, with an internal temperature of at least 160F.

While chicken is coming up to temp, prepare Classic Marinara Sauce, in the same pan without washing it, as follows:

Heat olive oil and butter in a large heavy bottomed skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and stir until onions are translucent, 3-5 minutes. Once onions have sweat a bit, add garlic and stir until fragrant, being careful not to brown.

Add mushrooms and red pepper flakes, if using, and continue to stir until the mushrooms begin to caramelize ever so slightly.

Optional Step:  Add 1/4 cup of brandy and flambé

Add white wine and chicken stock, stir, and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits left in the bottom of the pan.  Add canned tomatoes, with liquid, and stir to incorporate. Add tomato paste and stir to incorporate.   Use a potato masher to mash the whole tomatoes as they cook.

Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow sauce to reduce to desired consistency, stirring once in a while to ensure even cooking. Taste for seasoning.

In the last ten minutes of cooking, place one of the basil sprigs in the center of the pan. Allow it to wilt, and then submerge it in the sauce and allow sauce to continue simmering, 10 minutes.

Discard basil sprig and garnish with remaining basil sprig if desired.

To Finish:

Remove chicken cutlets from oven and spoon some of the Marinara sauce over the chicken cutlets.  Using a cheese grater or microplane grater, grate fresh Parmesan cheese over cutlets.  Pop them under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove, and serve over the pasta of your choice with remaining Marinara sauce.



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