Baked chicken Parmesan

Baked, not fried, Chicken Parmesan. Don’t let the wordiness of this recipe prevent you from trying it. The 3 main components are a tomato sauce (you could even use your favorite pasta sauce and skip making your own all together), setting up a breading station (not as daunting as it may sound) and preparing your chicken and cheese.

Pounding boneless skinless chicken breasts flat is a great way to prepare them for all kinds of cooking, from baking like we are doing here or poaching or even stir-frying. It ensures that the chicken will cook evenly and the center of the breasts will be done cooking when the edges are fully cooked without over-cooking, keeping the breast moist and tender.

For the sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium shallot, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
Big pinch red pepper flakes, then to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14 to 15 ounce- can tomato sauce
1 bay leaf

For the breading
1 cup flour
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups Italian seasoned panko breadcrumbs
Kosher salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill

For the chicken
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

For final cooking and presentation
1 8 ounce ball fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup freshly finely grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Reggiano
Fresh basil sprigs or leaves

For the sauce
Heat the oil over medium high heat in a medium sauce pan until it begins to shimmer. Add the minced shallot and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Season with freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes and cook another 15 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook until dark red/rust colored, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and bay leaf; give everything a big stir, then bring to a simmer, 5 to 7 minutes, then reduce heat to low

Set an oven rack in the center position and heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a half sheet pan with a non-stick silicone mat or parchment paper.

Set up a breading station
Line up 3 glass pie plates or rimmed platters. In the first plate add the flour and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper and whisk the seasonings into the flour with a fork. Crack the eggs into the second plate and whisk smooth with 1 tablespoon water. In the third plate add the panko and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and mix the seasonings in with your fingers.

For the chicken
Start with a long sheet of plastic wrap. Place a breast in the middle third of the right-hand side (or left hand side if you are left-handed). Bring the opposite end of the plastic wrap over the chicken and line up the edges. The chicken should now be covered and there should be plenty of room around the chicken to expand, staying between the plastic wrap and not extended out onto your work surface. Use a flat meat mallet or a rolling pin and pound the chicken flat, pounding mainly in the center where it is the thickest. The final thickness should be between 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Have a separate plate for the chicken breasts to land once they are processed.

Lay a chicken breast in the flour and coat completely then shake off the excess. Transfer the dusted breast to the egg mixture and coat completely, letting the excess drip off. Press the dusted and eggy breast to the panko and coat, pressing the panko onto the breast covering it completely. Transfer the coated breast to the prepared sheet tray. Coat each of the remaining breasts in the same way.

Place the tray of breaded chicken breasts into the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. After 2o minutes remove the chicken from the oven and cover the top of each breast with 1 scant up of the prepared sauce. Then cover the sauce with an even layer of the fresh mozzarella slices followed by 1/2 cup grated Parmesan over each breast.

Transfer the tray back to the oven and cook an additional 10 minutes to melt the cheese.

Portion the chicken out onto dinner platters and garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.

Chicken parm by Tom Saaristo

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