December 8, 2011

Go-To Dinner: Chicken Parmesan

To me Chicken Parm is probably my favorite go-to dinner. It is fast, cheap, requires almost no effort to make and is super delicious. It can be made in a variety of ways with different ingredients, so I find myself making it often right before the weekly grocery store trip. Sometimes though, like last night, I just get a hankering for some cheesy and crispy oven fried chicken over pasta. Plus I had some red wine that needed to be drank (drunk?).


I like to get out all my ingredients and have them organized into steps or final product. Last night I had them broken into these groups:
  • Chicken
  • Eggs, milk, paprika
  • Panko, oil, grated Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning
  • Pasta sauce, oregano, parsley, crushed red pepper
  • Fettuccine pasta

This is a dish that requires very few ingredients and steps. The most complicated step here is butterflying the chicken, which I am terrible at. One piece always looks perfect, and the other is a hacked up mess, but I do manage to get them the same thickness which is the most important thing here. Last night I had one perfect piece (of course) and one that looked somewhat like a rabbit with really small ears or cat with a really big head. You get the picture.

My next step is whisking the eggs, milk and paprika together for the wash and get the breading ready. I usually make it with Panko, seasoning, cheese and a touch of oil but I have also made it with crushed up croutons, tortilla chips and smashed up stale bread. Many different options for basically the same results. I like to add in some grated Parmesan cheese because I like the all-over flavor, but sometimes that step is dictated by how much and what kind of cheese I have in the fridge. If I top it with mozzarella I will always put the Parmesan in the bread mixture, but there have been times where I settle with just a sprinkling of parm on top. As long as it is there, this dish is good to go.

One last cheese note and I'll move on... Unless I am in dire straights I will always use fresh Parmesan cheese, whether it is in the pre-shredded pack or a block. The stuff you get in the pasta aisle is no good - it doesn't melt properly and just doesn't taste that good. Upgrade if you can.

OK - back to the chicken. I don't like to handle my breaded chicken other than to put it in the pan and flip it once, so I will get the oil hot before breading. I pour in just enough oil in a oven safe pan to coat the bottom and get back to my chicken. This part is easy: get a good egg wash on and then roll in the breading. As soon as my chicken is breaded the next thing it will touch is hot oil. Next I fry each side until they have a nice brown color (about 3 min per side) then toss the pan into the 350 degree oven. I cooked it in the oven for about 10 min or so. My chicken isn't that thick so the oven part is really to crisp up the outside and to make sure the chicken is cooked through. I don't do a slice test on breaded chicken. Might be bad on my part, but I am confident in my timing, plus by cutting the chicken you release all the juice which makes the meat dry and the breading wet.


By the time I got around to dinner last night, I didn't even have the energy to make a sauce from scratch, so I pulled out a jar of marinara sauce and dumped it into a sauce pan. Ultimately, cooking is all about how you season things, so I added some crushed red pepper, oregano, parsley, minced garlic and some onion powder to the mix. Gives it that little extra somethin' somethin'.

Pasta is pasta: 1. Boil water 2. Add a splash of olive oil to water 3. Add pasta 4. Cook until al dente 5. Drain and serve.

Last night I decided to not put sauce on the chicken. Everything crisped up just right and I was unsure if there would be enough sauce for the pasta, but mainly I just forgot. I had jumped the gun and put cheese on the chicken right before I drained the pasta. Ah well, c'est la vie.


Dinner was perfect. The chicken was crunchy on the outside and wonderfully moist on the inside. The sauce had just the right kick with the crushed red pepper and garlic. And of course the Pinot Noir was the icing on the cake. I ended up being happy about forgetting the sauce. It all gets mixed up anyway and the breading was such a treat in itself that it would have been a shame to cover it up.

The only thing that would have made this dinner better would be no dishes to do. :p

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