Photo: Shutterstock / AS Food studio
When I was growing up, our family ate Italian-inspired dishes for dinner several nights a week. My mom would serve up a healthy rotation of Italian comfort foods like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna (all kinds of ways!) and baked ziti, all accompanied by her homemade tomato sauce.
When I got married and had my own children, I set out to learn how to make all of my favorite Italian-American meals from my childhood and to find a killer chicken parmesan recipe. Once I mastered homemade tomato sauce, I knew I was ready to start adding Italian foods to my meal roster.
Chicken Parmesan is a family favorite and for good reason. This traditional dish consists of breaded, fried chicken (who can resist?) topped with cheese and tomato sauce, and served with pasta. I love it because it’s easy enough to make on a weeknight, yet fancy enough to serve to company. You have to be careful, though, because a few wrong moves and your chicken Parmesan can end up bland, dry, and just plain boring.
To make sure your chicken Parm is anything but dull, follow my step-by-step guide which includes my best tips on how to make yours the ultimate chicken Parmesan!
Ultimate Chicken Parmesan
First, you need to start with the basics. (Psst! This is a great foundational recipe to reference)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup breadcrumbs; I prefer panko for extra crispiness, though plain or seasoned work fine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Your favorite tomato sauce
Oil (for frying)
Step 1: Prepare the chicken
Chicken breasts are the best choice for classic chicken Parmesan. For the chicken to cook evenly, it should as close to even thickness as possible. You can place the chicken between wax paper or plastic wrap and use a mallet to pound it thin or, alternately, slice each breast horizontally to make two thin cutlets. You want the chicken to be right around 1/2-inch thick.
Upgrade to ultimate: Marinate your chicken in buttermilk for several hours before cooking. This will keep your chicken moist and tender. Seriously, buttermilk is the secret ingredient you didn’t know you needed–check out all these amazing ways to use it!
Step 2: Dredge and bread
You will need to both dredge the chicken in flour and coat it with breadcrumbs before frying to get that golden, flavorful, crispy crust that chicken Parmesan is known for. Set up three shallow dishes: one with flour seasoned with salt and pepper, one with beaten eggs, and one with a combination of breadcrumbs, herbs (think oregano, basil and garlic powder) and grated Parmesan cheese. Dredge the chicken in the flour, dip in the beaten eggs, and then finish by coating with the breadcrumb mixture, pressing the coating onto the chicken.
This stage is where bland chicken Parm is made. Make sure to season your flour and breadcrumbs well!
Upgrade to ultimate: If you have the time, make your own fresh breadcrumbs. (Cut a loaf of fresh Italian bread into thick slices, bake at 350°F until crusty, then pulse in a food processor until finely ground.) For ultimate flavor, mix some fresh minced oregano and basil into the breadcrumbs.
Step 3: Shallow-fry
Shallow-frying is a technique in which the food you’re frying is only partially submerged in the cooking oil. Confused about which oil to use? We’ve got you covered. I like to go with a mild oil like canola or vegetable.
To fry, coat the bottom of a large skillet with the oil and heat to 350° to 375°. Fry the chicken in batches for 5 to 6 minutes per side until gorgeously golden.
Upgrade to ultimate: Fry your chicken in a cast-iron skillet. Nothing beats the even heat distribution and temperature regulation that you get from frying in cast iron.
Step 4: Top it off
Now that you’ve got the chicken fried to golden perfection, it’s time to add the finishing touches. Place the fried chicken cutlets in a baking dish, slather with tomato sauce, and finish with plenty of fresh mozzarella cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan.
Upgrade to ultimate: The best way to take your chicken Parmesan from good to out-of-this-world amazing is by making your own homemade tomato sauce. A homemade sauce will provide a fresh, authentic flavor that simply can’t be beat.
Step 5: Bake and enjoy!
Bake the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes at 400°F or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. I like to add a sprinkle of fresh herbs right before serving for a pop of color and flavor.
How to Make it Your Own
Looking for more ways to jazz up your chicken Parm? I’ve got a few more ideas up my sleeve!
- Get cheesy. Try incorporating creamy goat cheese, smoked provolone or salty pecorino Romano into your cheesy topping.
- Stuff it. Stuffed chicken is a fun spin on the classic dish. Carefully slice a slit into the chicken and stuff with your favorite thin-sliced Italian meat (think prosciutto, pepperoni or capicola), fresh spinach, or extra cheese before breading and frying.
- Try new toppings. A sprinkle of spinach or even spicy arugula can provide extra freshness and texture.
- Forget the fork and knife. Serve your chicken Parmesan on a toasted baguette, sandwich style!