When the History Teacher mentioned a craving for Chicken Parm recently, he and I both took a peek or two at various recipes in our collections. (Cookbooks, magazines, Pinterest — which is slowly becoming a recipe book-sized collection in itself!) Each recipe we found, it seemed, called for lots of oil, gobs of cheese, and a few more calories than either of us might need in one meal. Or an entire day.
I decided to tackle the beast that was one of Italian-American cuisine’s most iconic dishes, but in a healthier way. Could it be done? Would it be a fruitless effort, like whoever decided to try manufacturing fat-free ice cream? (Oxymoronic at best, nasty at worst. Oif.) Would I end up with a chicken-tasting hockey puck of low-fat grossness? Time would tell.
But, lo and behold, I came up with this beauty:
Nommy nom nom goodness.
The recipe’s low-fat, easy-prep secrets? (I’ll let you in, faithful GKG readers, because you’re lovely and awesome.)
- Pound the chicken breasts to tenderize the meat.
- Double-Bread the chicken (directions below) to seal in moisture and create a crispy crust
- Downplay the cheese by only adding enough for flavor, rather than letting the chicken drown in fromaggio.
- If you have it, use whole-wheat pasta, which has a nuttier flavor and a hefty “bite” when cooked al dente.
Now, some of you may be raising a red flag at the mention of lowering the recipe’s cheese content. After all, what’s Chicken Parm without gobs upon gobs of melted mozzarella? Here’s my reasoning: If the chef uses less, but makes the cheese available to her guests and patrons, then they can add as much cheese as they see fit. And, thus, their future heart attacks are not on the chef’s conscience. Plus, I like a lighter layer of cheese with the whole-wheat or whole-grain pastas. Something about their nutty, wholesome flavor screams “Please don’t drown me in dairy!”
And so, friends, here’s my recipe for an easy and surprisingly healthful Chicken Parmigiana. It’s really the meat-pounding-and-double-breading that makes this recipe special, and the techniques are so simple that they can be easily applied to any cut of meat that you choose. Try it with pork chops, chicken thighs, or even a thin steak if you’re feeling particularly Southern. Happy eating!
Surprisingly Healthful Chicken Parm — Serves 4 (easily reduced to 2 or doubled)
- 4 medium-sized or two large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (regular, Italian-seasoned or panko are all fine)
- A hefty sprinkle of Parmesan, plus more for serving (approx 1 tbsp)
- 1-2 tsp Dried or fresh basil, parsley and oregano, crushed (if dried) or finely chopped (if fresh)
- Salt & pepper to season
- 1 recipe homemade tomato sauce (or 1 jar of your favorite marinara)
- 1 lb whole-grain or whole-wheat spaghetti (or 1 lb regular spaghetti. Your carbs are your prerogatives, my dears.)
Here’s what you do:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, set a pot of water (with a pinch of salt) to boil on high heat.
- In a small saucepan, heat 2-3 cups pasta sauce.
- Place your chicken breasts on a cutting board between two layers of wax paper or plastic wrap. (If you used 2 large breasts, cut ’em into evenly-sized portions). Using a meat tenderizer or whatever heavy, blunt object you don’t mind getting slightly covered in chicken guts (I used the bottom of a jar), pound out the breasts until they are at least 1/2 of their original thickness. They should end up about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. (The recipe can handle a little variation.)
- Arrange 3 bowls or serving dishes. In the first, add the flour, some salt & pepper, and 1/2 of the herbs. In the 2nd, add the beaten egg (with an optional pinch of garlic salt). In the third, add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan and the rest of the herbs. Dredge the pounded breasts first in flour (shaking off the excess), then in egg, and finally in the breadcrumb and Parmesan mixture. Set aside on a serving dish.
- Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. (Optional: Add 1/2 tsp butter to the pan for additional flavor. Add the chicken breasts (2 at a time) and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until well browned. When browned, transfer to a lightly sprayed baking sheet. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until completely cooked through.
“Hissssss.” — Breadcrumb coating meets olive oil.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse lightly, and transfer to serving bowl / dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and a little remaining pasta water to keep pasta from sticking together until chicken is done.
Lonely pasta, just waiting for some friends.
- To serve, top pasta with chicken breasts. Spoon sauce over breasts and pasta until well-covered. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to garnish, and top with additional dried or fresh herbs. Serve to the hungry hordes!
Almost ready! Check out that sweet crumb-coating.
Oh yeah. Sauce & cheese take that chicken to the next level.
A few final points, my dears:
First, if you’re serving this for dinner, a simple salad and crusty loaf of bread are the perfect side dishes. Secondly, you can up the veggie quantity by using a veggie-filled sauce, adding sauteed veggies to your premade sauce, or even using peeled eggplant slices / squash slices instead of chicken breasts. And if you’re really craving that cheesy goodness, assemble the dish in an oven-safe, deep-sided pan, top with mozzarella, and broil for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is gooey, bubbly and browned to your liking. (“All things in moderation, including moderation.” — some wise, awesome person.)
Lastly, what really makes the dish is that double-breading. It creates a crisp coating that locks in moisture, leaving your chicken breasts juicy and the outsides browned, crunchy and delicious. You really can’t go wrong!
Are you guys fans of this Italian-American classic? Have you ever double-breaded chicken breasts before? What are your favorite techniques for recreating this dish at home?