When my husband and I started dating, I quickly learned that he was quite possibly the world’s pickiest eater. He didn’t do veggies. Nothing green. No ethnic foods. Nothing with spices. He pretty much subsisted on burgers, fries, and pizza (and only pepperoni pizza, at that). I, on the other hand, was raised in a family that had a lot of variety with meals. We were always encouraged to try new foods and, as a consequence, I have a pretty broad palate.
All that said… once the husband and I started dating, he began to hear about how much I loved to cook and what dishes I was especially good at. For years, my family had loved my chicken parmigiana and this was always the requested meal when I was cooking for my parents. So wanting to impress, my superawesome, new (at the time) boyfriend, I decided to make him my speciality, knowing it was a risk and that he probably wouldn’t like it very much. In later years, he told me how apprehensive he was about that one meal, fearful that he would secretly hate it and worried about having to lie to me saying that it was good. Ha!
As it turns out, I made my chicken parmigiana for the (then) superawesome, new boyfriend and –lo and behold– it became his favorite meal! It is, to this day, the one big dinner that the husband requests for special meals, and he really does squeal like a schoolgirl when he sees it on the next week’s menu.
The original recipe that I started using as a teenager is one that I first saw in an old Southern Living cookbook from 1980. Over the years, of course, I’ve made various additions and substitutions. It still is one of my favorite things to make, even if it can be somewhat time-consuming. I just open up a good bottle of wine and get to it! This is one meal I can honestly say that I am never disappointed in!
To begin, you will need:
- 2 good-sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 c. vegetable oil
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 t. salt
- just shy of 1/8 t. black pepper
- about 1 c. of bread crumbs (you can use plain or italian style. I go with whichever I have on hand.)
- 2 (15 oz.) cans of tomato sauce
- 3-5 large cloves of garlic, minced (use to taste… I like tons of garlic in this dish so I’m always heavy-handed with it!)
- 1 T. of fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1 and 1/2 t. fresh oregano, chopped
- 1/4 t. garlic powder (yeah, I know, but like I said– I love lots of garlic flavor in this dish!)
- a sprinkle of celery salt
- 2 T. butter
- 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
- about 8 oz. of Mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded (again a total estimation on amount, as you should use as much as you personally like)
To start, you’ll need to flatten the chicken breasts to about 1/4 in. thickness. Different people have different methods of doing this, but basically, I just put the breasts into a ziplock baggie and pound them with my kitchen mallet. Once you’ve finished pounding those little suckers, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. While the oil heats, mix the egg, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Place the bread crumbs in a large bowl or on a plate. Once the oil is heated, drench the breasts (one at a time works best for me) in the egg mixture and dredge through the breadcrumbs. Each breast goes into the oiled saucepan and browns. Cook them until browned on both sides, usually about 5-8 minutes per side is good. Once they are browned, drain the breasts on paper towels.
Now, drain the left-over oil from the pan, but return the pan (with breadcrumb drippings) back to the stove top. Add the tomato sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and celery salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t forget to taste it every so often and feel free to adjust your seasonings accordingly! While the sauce is simmering, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a glass baking dish– when making just the two breasts, I’ve found my 9×9 size to work well– with cooking spray.
Once the sauce has thickened, add in the butter and cook over low heat until melted. Place the chicken into the prepared baking dish and then pour the sauce over the chicken breasts. Top with the Parmesan cheese. Next, cover the dish, tightly, with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Once the chicken has baked for 30 minutes, remove the dish from the oven, but keep the oven on! Remove the foil from the dish and discard. Top the breasts and sauce with the mozzarella. Use as much or as little as you like. Then place the dish back into the oven to brown, for about 15 minutes.
Once the cheese has melted and browned on the edges, it’s good to go! This recipe makes tons of sauce because I always serve the chicken parm over some sort of pasta. If you aren’t interested in using the sauce as a pasta sauce then feel free to halve it. Along with the pasta, we normally have Caesar salads and garlic bread. This makes about 4 servings for myself and the husband. It is a really heavy, filling meal– great for cool weather or just for gorging! Enjoy!