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Everyday Italian: Chicken Parmesan

I've had a pretty high degree of success with Giada De Laurentiis so far; mainly, the problems I've encountered in her recipes have to do with technique. And with this recipe, we come to the sloppiest chapter in the book: Everyday Cutlets. While the dish itself is tasty and quick to make, I had quite a bit of frustration trying to figure out exactly how thin I was supposed to pound the chicken, or indeed if it even should be pounded at all.

The introductory page to the cutlet chapter describes cutlet as "any thin, boneless, skinless piece of veal, pork, or chicken." De Laurentiis then goes on to say that veal usually already comes in cutlets; for pork, she uses boneless chops pounded thin; and for chicken, boneless breasts pounded thin. No definition is given of what "thin" means -- 1/2 inch? 1/4 inch? And then in the Chicken Parmesan recipe, the ingredients list calls for "4 chicken cutlets (about 3 oz. each)." So I assume I'm supposed to pound out some chicken breasts, but that's definitely an assumption, because De Laurentiis doesn't give any other clues.

I searched through the rest of the cutlet recipes for hints. De Laurentiiis specifies that the chicken cutlets for Chicken Saltimbocca should be "pounded to flatten evenly," which made me wonder if the chicken cutlets for the Chicken Parmesan didn't need to be pounded, since it wasn't specified. And again, the term "evenly" isn't terribly helpful. Finally, on the page with the Pork Milanese recipe, there was a sidebar about pounding meat, with instructions to pound the meat between 2 pieces of plastic wrap until "approximately 1/2 inch thick."

Which is only sort of helpful, frankly. Because there's no indication in any of the other recipes that the cook should check page 159 for helpful hints on pounding meat, so if you haven't read every single page of the book, you won't know that the sidebar exists. And also because 1/2 inch thick is pretty damn thick. For chicken breasts, if you slice them in half crosswise, they'll already be 1/2 inch thick. Is further pounding necessary? In the end, the decision is up to you, because De Laurentiis? Ain't saying.

I ended up pounding out my chicken breasts to a thickness of 1/4 inch. To get 4 cutlets that were 3 oz. each, I started with 2 chicken breasts that were approximately 6 oz. each. First, slice each breast in half straight down through the middle, then slice each half crosswise through the thickest part. Place the meat between sheets of plastic and pound gently with a flat mallet. Four cutlets of this size will fit in a large skillet; if you use larger pieces of chicken, they won't fit.

The flavors were good, although I take issue with De Laurentiis' introductory paragraph, in which she states that in some restaurant versions of Chicken Parmesan, "if you can locate the actual 'Parmesan', you should win a huge prize." Because her version isn't terribly strong in Parmesan flavor either. In my revised version, below, I've increased the amount of Parmesan from 2 tsp per cutlet to 4 tsp per cutlet, for a stronger flavor. I've also made the butter topping optional, since I don't think it adds much to the finished dish.

De Laurentiis doesn't give serving recommendations; I served this chicken alongside the vegetable lasagna. It would also pair well with spaghetti or linguini.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: about 7 to 8 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 chicken cutlets, about 3 oz. each (see note, above)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup Marinara Sauce (use purchased sauce if desired)
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, in pieces (optional)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, thyme, rosemary, and parsley. Brush both sides of the cutlets with the herb oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add the cutlets and cook just until brown, about 1 minute per side. Remove from heat.

Spoon the marinara sauce over and around the cutlets. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of mozzarella over each cutlet, then sprinkle about 4 tsp of Parmesan over each. Dot the tops with butter, if desired, and bake until the cheese melts and the chicken is cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.



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