Plateworthy is back, and to kick off Season Three, chef Nyesha Arrington demonstrates all the necessary steps and expert tips for making a classic chicken parmesan, which here comprises a delicious trinity of sauce, crispy chicken, and lots of melted mozzarella. Check out some of Arrington’s tips for each step, and find the full recipe below.
“When you think about chicken parm, you think about that amazing red sauce,” Arrington says as she begins dicing onions, carrots, and celery for her mirepoix. One trick to making great red sauce is adding tomato paste. “Tomato paste loves to be roasted,” she explains. “[Roasting] the tomato paste is a very important step,” as it infuses flavor into the oil already in the pot. Another trick? Spooning small batches of the finished sauce into a hand-cranked food mill to smooth out the texture without over emulsifying it, as a blender might do.
“Texture is key in chicken parm, right? So how do we get that texture? Crispy delicious breadcrumbs,” Arrington explains. The main focus here is the size of the crumb. It shouldn’t be too large, like a crouton, but also not too small — you don’t want breadcrumbs with the consistency of flour. Something in between will create the perfect crunch.
You could buy chicken pieces, but that’s not the Arrington way. “A whole chicken breakdown is one of my favorite things to do,” she says. Check out the video or the recipe below to see how she takes a five-pound bird and carves it down to a deboned half-chicken piece — this means an entire breast and thigh together, but with the bones removed.
When it comes to breading meat, the process of flour, egg, breadcrumb, repeat might sound familiar. But Arrington’s dredging process goes a bit further, repeating a dip in both the flour and the egg to give the chicken even more crunch in the end.
After placing the chicken in a large skillet with heated neutral oil, Arrington adds some garlic cloves, basil, and thyme to the pan; the latter two not only help flavor the chicken but will also be used as a garnish later.
After taking the chicken parm out from under the broiler, Arrington tops the finished pieces with grated parmesan cheese, a pinch of flaky salt, black pepper, and the fried herbs saved from the chicken frying step.
Cutting a piece, she lets the cheese stretch from plate to fork to mouth and takes a big bite. “Wow, this is like hugging my soul right now,” she declares. “[It’s] beautiful, vibrant, fresh, reimagined, but classic. Do you think Tony Soprano would like this?”
With this recipe, you can decide that for yourself.
Nyesha Arrington’s Classic Chicken Parmesan Recipe
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup white wine
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2-4 bunches fresh basil
2-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
For the chicken:
1 whole chicken
16 ounces breadcrumbs (or one 16-ounce loaf Italian bread, if making from scratch)
16 ounces grapeseed oil
1½ cups all-purpose flour
7 eggs, lightly beaten
2-4 bunches fresh basil
2-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1-3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 cups low-moisture mozzarella, shredded
Parmesan, for garnish
Flaky salt, for garnish
Step 1: First, make the sauce.
Heat the grapeseed oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add the onion, celery, and carrot. Sauté for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and golden. Add the garlic and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, mixing to combine, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Deglaze the pan with about half of the white wine, then add the diced tomatoes. Rinse the tomato cans with the remaining wine, then add to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Tie together the basil and thyme with butcher’s twine to create a bouquet garni, then add to the sauce along with the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cover the sauce and cook for 30-35 minutes. Remove from heat. Once slightly cooled, remove and discard the bouquet garni and bay leaves. Using a ladle, run the sauce in batches through a blender, a food processor, or a food mill set over a large bowl. After pureeing, return the sauce to the pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.
Step 2: While the sauce is simmering, prep the chicken.
Place the chicken on a plastic cutting board. Using a sharp paring knife, slice out the wishbone, then slice off the tip of each chicken wing by cutting through the joint where the wing meets the drumette. Making a shallow cut along the breastbone and two deep cuts on either side, separate the breasts from the breastbone. Using the tip of the knife, slice each breast off the carcass, keeping the blade pressed against the bone. Cut through the cartilage to remove each breast, making sure to keep the wing attached. Separate thighs from breasts and save for another use. Trim any excess fat off each breast.
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap, place the airline-cut chicken breasts on top, and cover with another piece of plastic wrap. Using a meat tenderizer or a rolling pin, pound the chicken flat, until each piece is about ½ -inch thick. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and allow the chicken to air dry in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Step 3: While chicken is air drying, make the breadcrumbs.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Tear the bread into small pieces and place on two baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Working in batches, add the cooled breadcrumbs to the food processor and pulse until fine, making sure to sift out any large crumbs.
Step 4: About 15 minutes before you want to start frying, add about 1½ inches grapeseed oil to a large cast-iron frying pan over medium heat and slowly heat to 350 degrees, using a candy thermometer attached to the side of the pan to measure temperature.
Add the breadcrumbs, flour, and eggs to three shallow bowls or baking dishes. Season the chicken breasts liberally with salt, then dredge first in the flour, then the egg, then the flour again, then the egg again, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Set aside on a plate.
Place the first breaded chicken breast skin side down in the hot oil, then very carefully add the basil, thyme, and garlic (they may splash). Fry the chicken breast for 3-5 minutes, basting frequently with the herb-infused oil, then flip over and fry the other side for another 3-5 minutes. Remove the chicken breast to a wire rack set over a baking sheet (to catch drips). Remove the fried garlic and herbs, setting aside the herbs for topping and discarding the garlic. Repeat with the remaining chicken breast.
Step 5: Preheat the broiler to high. Place the fried chicken breasts on a lightly oiled baking sheet or shallow, broiler-proof baking dish. Spoon approximately 1 cup tomato sauce on top of each chicken breast (reserve the remaining tomato sauce for another use). Top each breast with about 1 cup shredded mozzarella, then broil for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese has melted and is golden-brown in spots. Finish with the reserved fried herbs, grated parmesan, freshly ground black pepper, and flaky salt to taste. Serve immediately.
Recipe tested by Marisa Robertson-Textor