Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
“Chicken parm tonight?” is a text my friends are used to receiving from me on any given weekday. The dish regularly appears in my easy-dinner rotation, not just for its always-appealing ooey-gooey factor, but also because of how quickly it comes together.
If you make the sauce in advance (I’d say up to three days ahead, though you can also store it in your freezer for several months), the remaining steps should only take a total of about 40 minutes. You don’t even have to heat the sauce before use unless it’s frozen, as the final step of a high-temperature broil will do that for you.
My version calls for thicker pieces of chicken breast than the ultrathin ones you’ll find in many Italian restaurants, and I pan-fry them with a relatively modest amount of oil. That way, you end up with a filling, protein-rich meal without feeling guilty about the indulgence of fried food.
But to keep the cooking time reasonable and ensure a good crunch, you’ll still want to lean toward the thinner side. I asked my butcher to cut two chicken breasts in half lengthwise and then pound them to a 1/4-inch thickness. If you prefer a thinner rendition that’s more about the crust, get them pounded to a 1/8-inch thickness and reduce the pan-frying time by about 2 minutes on each side.
The breaded and fried pieces each get topped with a generous spoonful of sauce, which I tested making two ways: roasted in the oven and simmered on the stovetop. I fully expected to prefer oven-roasted, figuring that technique would impart richer flavor, but I wound up surprising myself and going with the latter option. I liked the greater freshness of the stovetop version as opposed to the more concentrated, darker oven-roasted flavor, which tasted more like a soup to me.
The stovetop sauce also paired better with my wine pick, Les Vignerons de Tavel Tavel Les Lauzeraies 2018, a deep-colored rosé from France’s Southern Rhône Valley. The Grenache-based blend of several traditional Rhône varieties had a complementary freshness, with red fruit flavors that echoed the simmered tomatoes. And a richer-style rosé was definitely the right move here: This dish is hearty enough to call for a wine of some substance but would be overwhelmed by a bold, tannic red. And the wine needs to have enough acidity not to fall flat alongside the tomato sauce, while also providing a refreshing foil to the chicken's fried exterior.
You can blend the sauce to your desired consistency, though I suggest stopping just before it’s fully smooth to achieve an almost-creamy texture and an even surface on which to layer the cheese, without losing the integrity of the individual ingredients. You still want to see some specks of basil leaves, which join the pot at the end so their flavor and color stay bright.
Easy Chicken Parmesan
Pair with a red-fruited, deeper-colored rosé, such as Les Vignerons de Tavel Tavel Les Lauzeraies 2018 (89 points, $16).
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours
Total time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Approximate food costs $30
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
- One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise and pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, whisked
- 1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 10 large basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
- One 8-ounce fresh mozzarella ball, thinly sliced
1. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and tomato paste to a large Dutch oven and heat over medium high for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until garlic is lightly browned. Add canned tomatoes, including juices, and bring to a simmer as you gently break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium low, cover almost entirely and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the chicken. Arrange three medium-sized rimmed plates on an uncluttered surface. Place the flour on one, the whisked egg on the second and the breadcrumbs on the third. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dip each piece in flour, lightly coating both sides, then dip it in the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs, gently shaking off any excess in between dips. Set aside on a large plate at room temperature.
3. Once the sauce has simmered for 45 minutes, remove cover and let simmer for 15 minutes more until it has slightly thickened and the flavor has mellowed out. Stir in basil and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a blender and blend until mostly smooth, or transfer to a plastic bowl (to avoid scratching a non-stick surface) and blend with an immersion blender. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 500° F, or its highest broil setting.
4. Preheat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, about 3 minutes. Add two of the breaded chicken breasts, making sure they’re not touching, and fry until the exterior is a deep golden-brown and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side. Be careful, as you’ll likely get some splatter. Lower heat slightly if it gets too aggressive. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain the excess oil. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet and repeat frying process with the remaining chicken breasts. (If you don’t have a large enough pan to fit two pieces, fry them one at a time in a small skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil each, discarding the oil and lightly wiping out the pan in between batches to avoid burning.)
5. Using a spatula or tongs, reposition the chicken breasts so they’re directly on the baking sheet, discarding the paper towels. For each piece of chicken, spoon on a layer of tomato sauce followed by a sprinkle of Parmesan, then cover with a few slices of mozzarella. Transfer to the oven and broil for 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned in spots, and serve immediately. Serves 4.