Italian food may just be my favorite thing. It’s a close race, because pretty much all food is my favorite thing. It’s something I realized recently.
I love food.
I’ve heard friends of mine say, “Sometimes I just forget to eat.”
I couldn’t be more confused if they said they liked to sprout wings and fly across town from time to time. Because that’s certainly not my problem.
What was I saying? Oh, Italian food. Yes. My favorite. Probably.
The thing is, unless you’re cooking it all the time, or just making spaghetti, homemade Italian food can be intimidating. Lasagna, even when I use no-boil noodles, still takes a couple of hours. I made stuffed pasta once years go and you would have thought a ricotta bomb exploded in my kitchen (it probably did). So as much as I love it, I didn’t make it too often, because I love to cook, but the clean up is a nightmare.
Enter, the blessed Weeknight Chicken Parm.
I recently discovered the basis for this meal on the back of the bread crumb canister, and it’s now one of our regular favorites. In fact, it’s so easy, it’s even earned status as a “backup meal.” That’s right, you heard me: easy. Only a few steps, doesn’t take more than an hour (less once you get a rhythm going) and very few dishes to clean. And this recipe is for 2, but as always, super simple to multiply.
You will need:
- Spaghetti or other long noodle of choice
- 2 Chicken breasts or chicken breast fillets (not pictured, for some reason)
- An egg
- Italian breadcrumbs: 1/4-1/2 cup
- Grated parmesan: 1/4-1/2 cup
- Jar of pasta sauce
- Shredded Mozzarella (call it 2 cups)
- Garlic cloves (optional but highly recommended)
So, first thing we do, get those noodles boiling. I like to break my pasta before cooking it. It cooks a little faster, and makes for easier eating later.
Get the noodles boiling now so you don’t have to worry about them later. (Pro tip: did you know that if your noodles finish cooking before you’re ready to use them, you can just turn the fire off and leave them sitting in the pasta water until you need them? That way you don’t have to add oil to keep them from sticking later.)
Next, mix up your treatments. In a wide, flat dish, mix together 1/4 cup bread crumbs with 1/4 cup parmesan. You may need more, and that’s fine, the exact measurements aren’t important. What is important is keeping it a 1-to-1 ration of bread crumbs to parmesan.
In another wide, flat dish, beat your egg and add a splash of water to where it’s not too thick – it should run off the fork easily but still stick a little.
All my other “wide, flat” things were in the dishwasher.
Now, this next step may not affect you, but in case it does, we’ll include it.
If you buy the big bag of frozen chicken breast fillets, feel free to skip down a couple of pictures. If you’re like me and buy the packs of refrigerated chicken breasts, you’ll need to do a little bit of maintenance before you continue. Mine came out of the package looking like this:
Plump, skinless, still connected. Which is fine for other things. But when you are grilling or pan-frying, you want your meat to be basically the same thickness from end to end. Otherwise you wind up with crispy “tails” and raw pink “heads.” So, cut them into two pieces, and set one on your cutting board.
I don’t have a meat mallet, so I use my heavy skillet.
And then just bang away on that sucker until he’s nice and flat.
Don’t ask me why it’s a “he.” It just is. Do this for both breasts. The thinner, the better.
Next, spread some EVOO in a pan with high sides and a lid.
(I promise, it’s clean. We have very hard water.)
Set it to medium-low heat and let the oil get warm. If you can swirl it around the pan some, so much the better. EVOO is good for you, and gives a nice color and texture to your breading. So don’t be shy with it.
Take your first chicken breast and dip it in the
hilariously small bowl of egg wash. Flip it and poke it until the whole thing is well-covered, front and back. (If you make more than two breasts, you might need 2 eggs.)
Then immediately transfer it to the crumb mix. Same deal, flip, press, poke, until every nook and cranny is covered in the yumminess.
Then transfer it to the pan and lay it flat. Do the same with the second breast.
Let them sit on that medium/low heat for 8-10 minutes. You want them to cook as much as possible with as few flips as possible. The less you mess with your food, they faster it will cook. Watch TV, call your mom, whatever. Don’t forget about them, but don’t bother them, either.
Once they get nice and brown on the outside and the meat is white about halfway up, give ‘em a flip and start on the other side.
The breading can get dark. Focus on the color of the actual chicken. If you want to cut into a thicker section to check for doneness, feel free. It won’t hurt the final eye-appeal.
Just be gentle.
Once they are both pretty and golden on the outside and white on the inside, take your jar of pasta sauce and pour it over both chickens. I usually start on the actual breasts then let the rest sort of fill up the pan.
Because of the altitude here, and because I don’t like wasting even a single bit of that tomato-y goodness, I usually pour a couple of tablespoons of water in the jar, swirl it around and pour the watery dregs in the pan. This helps keep the sauce from over-reducing.
My refrigerator is not actually pink. That’s a glare or something.
Next, and this is my favorite part, mince a few cloves of garlic and add them to the sauce.
Mix that stuff around the pan so everywhere gets a nice garlicky kick.
You’ll never go back to un-doctored jars of pasta sauce.
Lastly, generously lay some handfuls of mozzarella on top of your chicken. Shredded, sliced, whatever. Just use a lot. Trust me on this.
Turn the heat down to Simmer and cover. Again, walk away for 10 minutes or so and let the cheese melt itself down to a lovely gooey covering of joy. It won’t bubble and brown, because it’s being melted by moist heat, not dry. If you want the bubbly-brown look, pop the pan (uncovered) under the broiler for a few minutes after the cheese has melted.
I’ve never been able to resist digging in that long, so we just take it plain.
Drain your pasta, spoon a little onto your plate, then top with a chicken breast and some extra sauce, and presto!
Homemade chicken parmesan so easy you can do it on a Tuesday.