I tried Bon Appétit’s “Best Chicken Parmesan recipe” and here’s what happened.
Who doesn’t love Chicken Parmesan? Seriously. I’ve personally never met anyone. It is, by far, one of my absolute favorite foods. I love a crunchy cutlet smothered in a delicious, slightly sweet sauce and oozing all over with mozzarella cheese. Life is just that much better when I am eating a good chicken parm. However, since no restaurant seems to be able to make Chicken Parmesan very well, I have to make it myself.
I have been making chicken parmesan for as long as I can remember. It was certainly one of my first ever “go-to” meals and I made it on rotation. Turns out, for the past 20 or so years, I have been doing it all wrong. As it turns out, there’s a better recipe out there than mine and I cannot deny that- the truth in the taste!
Proper parmesan needs to be homemade, and made with love. There is no other option.
How it all started:
This revelation all started when I listened to a podcast from Bon Appétit’s test kitchen about The Best Chicken Parm. (Yep, I listen to podcasts about food. The obsession is real.) It’s from their “BA’s Best” series. They basically tested every possible variation including different thicknesses (down to the quarter inch), all varieties of breadcrumbs, a variety of seasonings in the dredging station, different frying oils and depths, a wide variety of sauces including style and thickness, cheese variations and finally, how best to cook the final dish to bring it all together. It was seriously intense!
The series of tests resulted in a recipe that pretty much goes against everything I stand for (or stood for) in my approach to chicken parm. This was incredibly disturbing and equally intriguing. So I literally went to the store to gather all the ingredients and the next day, I followed the Bon Appétit recipe exactly. I was skeptical the entire time. It all felt so wrong!
After spending the day making this recipe, my reaction to my first bite was something like “THIS. IS. F#@*ING AMAZING. HOW? How can this be so good?“ I couldn’t stop eating. I was pulled in by the depth of flavor and textures and it just kept pulling me back in for more.
Bon Appétit has done it. They found chicken parm perfection. It’s a totally different recipe and technique than I have prided myself on for 20+ years. But now, I’m part of the parm revolution.
Why it is the best
A few key things separate this parm from the rest of the pack.
- The number one difference is marinating the chicken in EVOO, lemon juice, garlic and salt before dredging in flour, egg and breadcrumbs. I would have never thought to marinate the chicken and then dredge it directly into the flour before this recipe. Never. But it makes all the difference.
- Cutlet thickness. I have always, always believed in the thinest cutlet possible. But using a cutlet 1/3 inch thick results in a much juicier cutlet. This is one area where I’m not totally sold yet. But it was damn juicy!
- Next, they call for panko and I’ve always been an advocate for classic Italian seasoned breadcrumbs. The panko really did create an incredible crunch that held up to the sauce. It felt wrong doing it, and frankly, is a lot more work to get the panko to adhere evenly, but it was worth it.
- Finally, the next significant difference was the frying. I’ve always believed in a shallow pan fry for my cutlets. Bon Appetite on the other hand, went with the deep fry approach using enough oil in a dutch oven to ensure the cutlets floated, and didn’t make contact with the bottom of the pot, which prevents uneven browning. The result was a perfectly even golden brown crust.
Frying in a dutch oven is the only way to go
This recipe is a little bit of work. But the good news is you can do several steps in advance, such as make the sauce 1-2 days before & grate cheese the day before. And you can even bread the cutlets a few hours in advance- they need to sit for at least an hour after breading anyway, so it’s better to do it few hours earlier, clean up the mess and then all you need to do is fry and assemble when its time to eat. My advise is to read the entire recipe & break it down into manageable steps for yourself so it’s not an all day affair. Once the idea of breaking it down into steps “clicks” then it’s really not a big deal at all.
In the original recipe, you are instructed to butterfly the chicken and pound it producing one very large piece of chicken. I think it makes it way too big and much harder to work with. It’s the one step in the recipe I really do not agree with. I did butterfly one to try it, but I decided to stick to halving the cutlets lengthwise, producing two equal breasts and then pounding them to 1/3 inch thick. I found it not only easier to work with, but more enjoyable to eat.
I am a mega fan of probe thermometers and in this case, using a probe thermometer to monitor and maintain the oil while frying the cutlets is really helpful, and will allow you to produce absolutely perfect cutlets. I use the Thermoworks Dot with a probe that is secured to the side of the pot with this handy gadget. I never fry ANYTHING without it!