Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chef Bolek's Pollo di Parmigiana

I both love and hate Chicken Parmesan.  I love the dish because, when it is made right, it combines chicken, cheese and tomatoes into one amazing meal.  However, when it is done poorly, it can be really bad.  And some Italian restaurants -- who shall remain nameless -- downright "butcher" the dish.  The prep cooks relentlessly pound the unfortunate chicken breasts until they are  flattened into a shape that resembles a two-dimensional football or a Frisbee.  As if that was not enough, the cooks then coat the breasts with a bland breading, deep fry the hell out of them and finish the dish by drowning the breasts not once but twice ... first with gooey "Parmesan" and then with runny tomato sauce.

One of my earliest cooking adventures was to develop what I thought would be a good Chicken Parmesan or Pollo di Parmigiana.  I said "good," not "best" or "perfect."  (I realize that, when it comes to cooking, I am far from perfect.) 

For me, there are four keys to a "good" Chicken Parmesan.  First, set the tenderizer or mallet aside and leave the breast in its original state.  This complicates the cooking of the dish because the average chicken breast has different thicknesses at each end.  Still, it is better than a flat piece of chicken.  Second, unplug the deep fryer.  A "good" Chicken Parmesan is NOT deep-fried.  The chicken should be pan-fried only as long as it takes to brown the bread crumbs.  The chicken should be finished in the oven, baked at a reasonable temperature to ensure that it does not dry out.  Third, two words ... Parmigiano Reggiano.  If you are going to make Chicken Parmesan or Pollo di Parmigiana, why not use the cheese that is actually produced in the areas around the city of Parma in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.  Finally, use home made sauce.  For this particular recipe, I used crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and, added the herbs and spices that I wanted.  I also made the sauce with a consistency that resembles marinara rather than the runny sauces used by some restaurants.  The chunks of the sauce, along with the cheese and the chicken provide a great range of flavors with each bite. 

So, there you have it.  A "good" Chicken Parmesan recipe.  It may not be the best, but it definitely works for me. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the Chicken):
2 boneless chicken breasts
1 cup of flour
2 cups of Italian style bread crumbs
1 tablespoon of dried basil
1/2 tablespoon of dried oregano
1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of onion powder
1/2 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
1/2 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper, plus 
     additional ground black pepper to taste
1 egg
1/8 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Flat leaf parsley, chopped

Ingredients for the Tomato Sauce
1 can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon of dried basil
1/4 tablespoon of dried oregano
1/4 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
2 cloves of garlic, diced finely
1/4 onion, diced finely
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

1.  Bread the chicken breasts.  Create a three stage breading process beginning with flour, then beaten egg and then bread crumbs.  Season the flour heavily with freshly ground black pepper.  Combine the basil, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper and ground black pepper with the bread crumbs.  Mix well.  Dip each breast first in the flour, then the egg and finally in the bread crumbs.  Let the breasts rest for about ten minutes. 

2.  Brown the chicken breasts.  Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in an oven proof pan.  Also heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once the oil is hot, place the breasts allow them to cook for about five minutes on each side.  After ten minutes, place the pan in the oven.  Continue to cook the breasts for about ten more minutes, flipping them after five minutes.  After about twenty minutes of pan frying and cooking in the oven, add a substantial amount of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top of the breast.  Continue to cook for at least five minutes or until the cheese has melted and begins to brown.  Remove the chicken to rest for about five minutes. 

3.  Make the sauce.  While the chicken is cooking in the oven, heat about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. Add the onions and saute for two minutes.  Add the garlic and saute for an additional two minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano and crushed red pepper.  Add salt and ground black pepper to taste.  Continue to simmer on low heat until the chicken is ready to be served.

4.  Plate the dish.  Plate the chicken breast.  Spoon some of the tomato sauce on top of the chicken breast.  Sprinkle the parsley over the top.  Serve the remainder of the sauce on the side.  


This dish is fairly easy to pair with wine. If you want to pair the dish with the region, I would suggest a Sangiovese di Romagna.  However, this dish goes well with other Italian wines, such as Chianti Classico, Super Tuscans and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  Here are a couple of wines that I've reviewed that would pair well with this dish: 

Collina dei Lecce -- Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva
100% Sangiovese grapes
Emila-Romagna, Italy
Flavors of cherries and raspberries

Marchesi Antinori -- Villa Antinori
55% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Syrah. 
Tuscany, Italy
Flavors of dark cherry, blueberries, earth and spice.


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