Soul food: Italian American chicken parm

Like most Italian American cuisine, “chicken parmigiana” originated back in Italy, most likely Sicily or Campania. It was traditionally made with aubergines (eggplants), deep fried, then covered with tomato sauce and melted provolone (a delicious local Italian cheese which you can find in certain Italian delis in London) or mozzarella, then baked in the oven to really bring out the deep, heart-warming flavours.

The New York Times first featured a recipe in 1962 due to the popularity of the dish which spread beyond the Italian American community and it became known affectionately as just “chicken parm.” Today you can go into most New York Italian delis and ask for a “chicken parm” sandwich (HEAVEN).

When I make it at home, I take a bit of what my mother taught me and a bit of what Giada de Laurentiis (Italian chef from the US Food Network) taught me!

With any Italian dish, the key is a BANGING tomato sauce. Store bought sauces in the jar are fine if you’re in a bind, but simply don’t taste the same as when you make it yourself (fresh, more flavourful). It’s also called “marinara sauce” in the US.

Start with the sauce. Heat a good slug of olive oil in a sauce pan, throw in 1 chopped yellow onion until translucent and then add some minced garlic. Add some red wine and let it get soaked up and almost evaporated, then stir in a can of plum Italian tomatoes (tinned tomatoes are very fresh, and plums tomatoes are the best). Depending on how much you want to make, I sometimes add in passata and a few teaspoons of tomato paste for extra flavour. Season with fresh parsley, salt and pepper (and Italian herbs if you have them), and simmer for a good 30 minutes so all the flavours come together.

NOW, you’ve got your banging marinara sauce. Preheat the oven to 220C/430F. Take a few chicken breasts (slice them in half), dip them in flour and then in eggs (2 eggs slightly beaten), and then in breadcrumbs (throw in some grated parmesan with the breadcrumbs for more flavour). Fry the chicken until it turns golden brown. Place each piece of chicken on to a baking dish and spoon a good amount of your marinara sauce over each. Top each with a slice of either provolone or shredded mozzarella (or both!) followed by a few tablespoons of grated parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Plate and serve the chicken parmigiana with linguine or spaghetti! Add more marinara sauce and parmesan as preferred. Bellissima! 

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