Having been mostly vegetarian for some 15 years, I am well versed in the ways of substitution. Non-meat eaters often have to go to great lengths to satisfy their protein cravings. Many meat substitute products are frighteningly bad (vegetarian bacon? No thank you …), but sometimes, these products actually excel: To this day DPaul and I still purchase veggie dogs (Yves brand are a particular favorite), and I am here to tell you that vanilla Tofutti Cuties truly are better than the real thing.
Giving up meat was one thing, but most recipes that eschew natural fats or sugars leave me utterly cold. It's not that I don't appreciate the desire to reduce calories and cholesterol (having, as I do, hereditary hypercholesteremia), but all too often these sacrifices are made at too high a price.
But once in a while, a recipe comes along that changes the way I think about low-whatever foods. It is, after all, possible to rethink a recipe totally, deconstruct it and rethink its elements, and return a newly engineered product that surpasses its predecessor. And thanks to America's Test Kitchen, chicken parmesan has been born again.
The reconstruction comes from analyzing expectations, not relying on traditions. By definition, chicken parmesan is a fried chicken cutlet, baked with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese; but what of the experience? It's all about the crunchy crust, and that means frying, right? Or does it?
Now, ATK embroiled themselves in something of a kerfuffle last year when they sent a blogger a cease and desist for reproducing one of their recipes. I'm not a fan of how they handled the whole situation, and really think they need to put their entire business model under the microscope, but I'm not going to get into that here. I am not going to repeat their recipe; I am, however, going to tell you how to do it.
ATK's readership is not necessarily the same as mine. Their recipes are exacting and fastidious; mine are wild-west at best. And at the end of the day, this really isn't a recipe — it's all about technique.
The big a-ha moment is that you put some panko in a pan with a small dollop of oil and brown them over medium heat, flipping regularly to prevent burning, until they're a gorgeous golden brown. Then spread them out on a plate to cool.
If you've fried anything, this will be familiar territory. Butterfly the chicken breasts, pound them down to 1/4 paillards, and pat them dry. Set up your dredging station: A plate of seasoned flour, a bowl with two beaten egg whites, and the browned bread crumbs mixed with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and, if you like, dry oregano. Finally, set a wire rack over a baking sheet to the right; you might want to spray the rack with oil.
Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off excess, then the egg whites, and finally the bread crumbs, patting to get them to adhere. Set the breaded cutlets on the wire rack and let rest for a few minutes to allow the breading to set. Bake them off in a hot oven (450-475ºF) for 10-15 minutes — your mileage may vary.
Meanwhile, heat up your favorite marinara sauce and grate a bunch of mozzarella cheese. When the chicken is done, or nearly so, spoon some sauce over the middle of each cutlet, top with cheese, and bake until the cheese goes all melty and brown. And there you are.
Need more specific instructions? It's all on the Cook's Illustrated site. But it ain't free. Unless you just go in for the free trial period. Just sayin'.
This post's photo was the first using the new LowelEgo lamps that we won during Menu for Hope V, courtesy of Kalyn. We're pretty pleased with the results!
Read the blow-by-blow of Melissa's correspondence with Cook's Illustrated.
Kalyn's baked chicken strips with mustard, almond and parmesan are another light treat.
Chicken parmesan … in a crockpot?