Chicken Parmigiano: The Italian Barometer

Some epicures regard chicken parmigiano as an overly simplistic dish, while others argue you can’t even find it on menus at restaurants in Italy. Ordering such a dish might appear as a cop-out, particularly when there are so many less than pedestrian plates. So, why waste time on such a seemingly basic entree?

The answer is simple; one bite can instantly reveal the quality and innovation of the chef.

Chef Eddie Esper
Chef Eddie Esper

Chicken parmigiano has an intrinsic nature that echoes that of all Italian cuisine: simplicity. Comprised of what most Italian food fans adore about the boot, it can instantly reveal the quality and innovation of the chef.

Depending on how well the elements of the dish work together, any guest can gauge the level of quality expected with more complex dishes. You just need to understand three basic elements: gravy, cheese and chicken.

Pass the Gravy

Gravy is Italian-American for sauce. In this case, it’s marinara and it’s meant to run red and thin.

The redder this simple tomato sauce is, the fresher it is. Darker marinara, almost brown in color, tends to indicate that it has passed its prime. A catchy rule of thumb: if it’s brown, leave town; if it’s red, pick up the bread.

At its thickest, marinara should have a consistency similar to that of a pure. However, the sauce becomes more acidic as it gets thicker, which leaves many Italian foodies suffering from acida (pronounced ah-chi-dah). Luckily, ingredient number two helps to prevent this burning feeling in the chest.

Say Formaggio

The dish may be called chicken parmigiano, but the cheese isn’t actually parmigiano. It’s mozzarella and it should be melted, soft and plentiful.

Remember, there’s no such thing as melting the cheese too much. You’ll find that once it hits the hot cutlet, it melts and sure enough, when the sauce trickles over the chicken, it melts even more .

Overly spicy sauces and spice-laden breading can easily trump the mozzarella with their intensity. One trick to thwart this: put cheese on the cutlet, add sauce and then top it off with a little more cheese. This achieves a dense texture and prevents the mozzarella from being overshadowed.

Chicken Reigns Supreme

The chicken cutlet, or cottaletta in Italian, is arguably the most important part of the dish. Differing from a fillet, a cutlet should be rather thin and very tender.

Chicken Parmigiano at Chioda's
Chicken Parmigiano at Chioda's

Tenderness is key. Overcooking or drying-out a cutlet can be very easy. It should be pounded somewhat thin, but not so much that you can read a newspaper through it. Personal preference may vary, but you’re looking for something about half the thickness of a New York sirloin.

Telltale signs a chicken might be overdone: crunchy breading, hard breading, and burnt edges. Slow cooking is one way to prevent dry chicken, a tried and true method used by Chioda’s Trattoria.

When these elements come together ”the freshest sauce spiced slightly with oregano, a little extra mozzarella and a perfectly pounded, tender, breaded cutlet lightly spiced and fried only in pure, extra virgin olive” the result is a mouth-watering gastronomic symphony known as chicken parmigiano.

If you think you’re ready to try testing this infamous dish, a great place to start is Chioda’s Trattoria in Worcester, MA. Executive Chef Eddie Esper has proved to be a genius when it comes to chicken parmigiano. With the help of Steve Chioda, Jr., they have perfected a simple yet delicious sauce that’s light on spice and full of fresh flavor and mastered slow cooking. Buon appetito!

Written by Domenic Mercurio

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