The quintessential red-sauce Italian dish, chicken parm, made kosher. I won't claim that a kosher version of chicken parm is going to be like the real deal, but my husband has declared this "seriously close."
This post is part of the Eating New York series.
If New York pizza is the king of red sauce, then chicken parm is the crown prince. Breaded chicken breasts, pounded thin, then baked in tomato sauce and topped with cheese, my husband has declared it "one of the greatest dishes of all time." Needless to say, a high bar to clear on our kosher quest. Fortunately, I have the best Italian-American home cook in New Jersey to consult on the matter, the mom of a dear friend. To whit: my husband was more than sanguine about my use of vegan mozzarella, hoarding the leftovers and everything.
Preparing chicken for chicken parm
The first step in making chicken parm (or "parm" as the case may be) is to make sure your chicken breasts are nice and thin. If you can't find them thin sliced, pound them with a meat mallet. I pound them with the smooth side of the mallet first and when they're just about the right thinness, I thwack them with the tenderizing side.
Apart from the Italian seasoning added to the bread crumbs, breading the chicken is similar to making schnitzel, except that, according to my experts, it needs to be dredged in flour before the beaten egg and seasoned bread crumbs. I recommend coating all the breasts before you begin frying, which makes it easier to watch the chicken and turn it when it's just right.
Pan-frying chicken for chicken parm
You want to fry the chicken in a thin layer of oil, reaching about halfway up the thickness of the chicken breast. If the oil dries up, add a little more to the pan before putting in the second batch of breasts. You want to fry the chicken until it's a medium gold, 5 minutes or so on the first side and maybe 3 minutes on the second.
I use and recommend olive oil for frying the chicken breasts. Especially for Italian food, it also adds classic flavor. Olive oil isn't known as a frying oil, but I think it tastes the best and I don't personally have problems regulating its temperature. You can, however, use any oil that you usually fry with that doesn't have a strong flavor (well, apart from olive, where the flavor is a plus).
Making the sauce
The tomato sauce for chicken parm is easy to make. It just needs to simmer for a long time. Can you shortcut it? Yes. But if you want the real deal, give yourself an hour and a half simmer time. I recommend making the sauce in a separate saucepan ahead of the chicken, then start the chicken about 20-30 minutes before the sauce is done.
Assembling the dish
You'll want to assemble the dish in an oven-proof pan or casserole. Layer the tomato sauce in, then the chicken on top. Lay slivers of fresh basil over each chicken breast (this is my little addition, my expert doesn't require it!) and then place the cheese on top. (I used Daiya vegan mozzarella slices.) Broil for a few minutes while you pour the chianti.
With love and gratitude to my Fran and Mama Behr, for sharing your family recipe and for all the wonderful times we spent around your kitchen table (and poolside, of course).
Kosher Chicken "Parm" (meat)
- 1 medium onion - finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 3-4 garlic cloves - minced
- 3 ½ cups whole or crushed canned tomatoes - 28 oz / 800 g (in the large can)
- ¼ cup tomato paste - (1 small can)
- ¼ cup water - (fill the tomato sauce can)
- 4 thin-cut or pounded chicken breast cutlets - 1 ¼ to 1 ½ lbs / 1.5 kg total
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- ¼ cup olive oil - approximately, for frying
To assemble the dish:
- 2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves - thinly sliced, optional
- 4 slices non-dairy mozzarella slices - such as Daiya
Make the sauce:
- Add the onion and garlic to a skillet or saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat for several minutes, until the onions soften.
- Strain the tomatoes through a mesh strainer into the skillet/saucepan.
- Add the tomato sauce and water to the sauce and stir to combine.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer for 1 ½ hours, adding more water as needed.
Bread the chicken:
- Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.
- If not using thin-sliced chicken breasts, pound them with a meat mallet to about ¾" / 2 cm thick.
- Set up a breading station with one baking pan or rimmed dish with all-purpose flour, the next with beaten egg, and the third with the bread crumbs. Add the seasonings to the bread crumb and stir with a fork to combine.
- Bread the chicken breasts one by one, dipping them in the egg and then dredging them in bread crumbs. Plate on a plate or platter.
Fry the chicken:
- Heat about ¼ cup of olive oil over medium-low heat in a large, straight-sided, oven-safe skillet. (If you don't have an oven-safe one, you will need to bake the chicken in a separate baking dish.) Add breaded chicken cutlets and fry for 5 minutes on the first side, until golden. Flip and fry for 3-4 minutes on the second side. Remove to a plate.
Assemble the dish:
- Place the sauce in your oven-proof skillet or casserole. Add the chicken on top of the sauce.
- Place a few strands of ribboned basil on top of each chicken breast. Then, on top of the basil, place one slice of vegan mozzarella.
Bake the chicken "parm":
- Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or so, until the sauce is bubbling, and the cheese is beginning to melt.