Cooking For Others: Birthday Parmigiana
EVENT: Mom’s Birthday
VENUE: Mom’s Kitchen, Riverdale
PARTY SIZE: 4
TYPE: Festive Celebratory Dinner
MENU: Chicken Parmesan; Twice-Fried French Fries; Mixed Greens with Yellow Pepper and Basil Dressing; Sweet Ricotta Tart; Prosecco
WHAT YOU’LL NEED: Stainless Steel Slotted Turner
I guess it’s not so surprising that, for my mom’s birthday this year, we decided to traffic in nostalgia rather than foodie-ism. Phoebe’s birthday featured Mini Meatball Subs and Mac and Cheese; mine was all about retro classics, too: Onion Dip, hot dogs on the grill, and bazooka bubble gum. So though things like duck confit went through my mind, in the end my sisters and I decided to make an old family dinner favorite: Chicken Parmesan.
Serves 4, with extra sauce for dipping fries
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
For the chicken:
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs*
1 teaspoon salt
oil for frying
For assembling the dish:
3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, cubed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
10 basil leaves
*To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim the crusts from half a baguette. Cut the insides into cubes, the process in a food processor until the cubes become crumbs.
To make the sauce, cook the onions in the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until transparent but not brown. Add the garlic just before the onions are done and cook for 2-3 minutes, letting the garlic get ever so slightly golden. Add the basil leaves, salt, and red pepper, then add the tomatoes. Cook for 30 minutes over medium heat, letting the sauce reduce slightly. This can be made ahead.
Place the chicken breasts in a sealed plastic bag. Pound them to about 1/3″ thick, using a meat pounder, rock, or other creative utensil.
Spread the flour onto a shallow plate. Crack the eggs into a bowl large enough to hold 1 chicken breast, and beat them. Combine the breadcrumbs, pepper, and salt in another shallow bowl.
To prepare the chicken breasts, one at a time, place them in the flour, turning to coat both sides. Repeat in the egg and then in the breadcrumbs. Place them on a baking sheet: you’re ready to fry.
Put a paper-towel covered plate by the stove. Heat about 3/4 inches of neutral oil in a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. When a breadcrumb sizzles in an oil, put in as many breaded chicken breasts as will fit without crowding. Fry for about 4-6 minutes a side, until the chicken is crispy and brown. Remove to the paper-towel lined plate and repeat with the remaining breasts.
4 large baking potatoes
oil–a quart or two
Peel the potatoes and cut them into fries–about 4″ by 1/2″ by 1/2″. Do this just when you’re ready to cook so the fries don’t brown.
Line a large bowl with paper towels. Heat the oil in a medium pot over high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add a small fry. When this fry sizzles, that means it’s time to start cooking. Turn the heat down slightly, and cook the fries in batches, depending on the size of your pot. You don’t want to overcrowd and you don’t want the oil to bubble over.
Fry each batch for about 8 minutes, until starting to crisp but still quite pale. Remove with a slotted spoon, letting as much oil as possible drip off before transferring to the towel-lined bowl. Repeat with the remaining uncooked fries.
When you’re ready to eat, repeat this process, only now the fries should cook much more quickly, and since they’ll have shrunk, you’ll be able to cook in fewer batches. Sprinkle generously with salt and serve with warmed tomato sauce (see above).