“Thus began the most traumatizing experience I’ve ever had in a kitchen. Gather round, all, and hear the harrowing tale of #ChickenParmGate.”
You’re probably thinking I got that title wrong. I didn’t. I meant that. The World’s Worst Chicken Parmesan. This is the story of how one of my favorite recipes in the world got butchered, battered, broken. And how – in the end – I was able to save it.
You see, this all started with a Plated meal. Foots was out for the week. I was too lazy to buy groceries. And when I checked the menu for that week – Chicken Parmesan was on it.
Now I’ll be honest. I’m like 98.7% a pescatarian – for a multitude of reasons. I eat mostly a plant & carb based diet, try to get in my protein, and get the occasional fish when I need a boost of the good stuff. I say 98.7% because I have a few weaknesses that I on occassion give into. Number one on that list of weaknesses is chicken parmesan.
So I ran with it. I got the chicken. And I was so excited for it. Making something that I used to love when I was a meat-eater with my own two hands – and from not too bad of ingredients.
And thus began the most traumatizing experience I’ve ever had in a kitchen. Gather round, all, and hear the harrowing tale of #ChickenParmGate.
[This is where a picture of the recipe would go… but I didn’t take one.]
Recipe Review // Chicken Parmesan with Roasted Cauliflower from Plated
Disclaimer: I found this recipe and tried it – and this is my experience. This recipe has been adapted, paraphrased, and annotated by me. All credit goes to the original owner.
Makes: 2 pieces of chicken, enough cauliflower to feed a village
Time: 40 – 60 minutes, (then add an extra 30 minutes to cry in a corner)
Survives: The longer you keep it in the fridge, the more wonky that chicken will get. Overnight in the fridge is the most I’ll give it.
Bang for your Buck: $24 for two servings from Plated.
1 // Prepare your station
– Preheat your oven to 425°F. Bring out a baking sheet.
– Slice 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella into medallions.
– Rinse 1 head of cauliflower and cut into florets. Dry the florets well.
– Finely chop 2 cloves of garlic.
2 // Roast the veggies
– Remember that baking sheet? Throw the cauliflower onto the sheet
with capers. // This is so not necessary. Plated does this weird thing where they try to make food better by pairing it with random things. If you think two ingredients don’t go together, listen to your heart. Don’t put them together.
– Drizzle on some olive oil (seriously don’t put a lot on, the cauliflower will get soggy and gross and inedible. Trust me.)
– Sprinkle on a few pinches of salt – to get a few grains on each little bundle of veggie goodness.
– Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast until they begin to catch on the sides – about 15 to 17 minutes.
– After the cauliflower is done cooking, remove from oven and set temperature to 450°F.
3 // Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
– Open a package of panko breadcrumbs, sprinkle some out onto a flat plate that will fit a whole piece of the chicken. Set aside.
– In a bowl big enough for the chicken, whisk one egg with a sprinkle each of salt and pepper.
– Also lay out a plate (big enough for the chicken) with some all-purpose flour on it. These three babies are your dredging station. // The Plated recipe does not call for a 3-station dredge. Just a 2-station. But I was raised in a 3-station dredge, so a 3-station dredge I will do.
4 // Parmigiana time
– Take out 2 breasts of skinless-boneless-chicken and pat them dry with a paper towel.
put a layer of cling wrap below and above the chicken. Grab a rolling pin or a meat tenderizer or even a small easy-to-beat-someone-with pan. Whatever is heavy and non-breakable you have on hand. Smack down on the chicken. Be gentle – but do it with gusto. You don’t want to maul the chicken. But you want to tenderize it and thin it out. // Again, the recipe didn’t call for this step. And I actually didn’t do it. But I thought about it. Chicken Parmigiana is supposed to be a thin, crispy, juicy piece of chicken. If you don’t do this, you’re gonna have a hard time getting that tender, goodness. Trust me. I had a horrible time.
– Once thin, remove the plastic wrap from the top and bottom and put it on a raw-chicken-safe cutting board. With a fork, gently poke the chicken evenly across the skin. (Again, not mauling – just tenderizing.)
– With the chicken tenderized, sprinkle some salt and pepper on both sides of the chicken.
– Heat a dollop of olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat.
– While the oil heats up, dredge. Dip the chicken in the flour, putting a thin even coat on both flat sides and the edges. Now dip it in the egg and pull it out, letting excess egg drip down off the chicken. Now dip both sides in breadcrumbs. If you need to press some of the panko to get it to stick, that’s okay. Repeat for the other piece of chicken.
– Once the oil is hot, add chicken and fry until the breadcrumbs gain a golden color – about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. When the chicken reaches 165°F, you can remove it from the heat. (Don’t undercook chicken – but also be careful not to overcook or it will get dry and rubbery! Keep your eye on it!)
5 // Tomato, To-ma-to – use what you like!
– The Plated people had a recipe for “tomato” “sauce”. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually make it their way.
– I recommend making your own (and I have a fast and easy recipe to do it!). But if you want to shave some time off your cooking, you can use your favorite store-bought brand.
6 // Baking it just like grandmama used to
– Get an oven-safe casserole pan out. Put down a light layer of oil (either with spray or by wetting a paper towel with some olive oil and rubbing the pan).
– Put the chicken into the pan. Sprinkle the chicken with parmesan. Cover the chicken with tomato sauce. Lay the medallions of mozzarella over top of the chicken.
– Sprinkle a slight amount of Italian seasoning over the whole shebang.
Put the chicken into the oven (now at 450°F) until cheese is melted – or 5 minutes, whichever comes first (again, we don’t want to dry out the chicken)
Eating Now // Serve immediately beside a side of the roasted cauliflower. Garnish chicken with with Italian seasoning or fresh cut flat-leaf-parsley. Whichever you prefer.
Eating Later // Personally, I prefer chicken parmesan cold on a toasted sub roll or between two pieces of toast. You can reheat if you want, but I find it gets dry.
The Worst Chicken Parm in the World // a tragedy
Now. This is usually the point where I tell you how well the recipe did. This is a recipe review after all. But I just have to be honest here. I made the recipe exactly how it was told on the card – without all these edits I’ve made here. And after nearly an hour of cooking, I sat down – my beautiful prized piece of chicken in hand – my rare treat in a world of vegetarian goodness. And I took a bite.
And I could barely swallow it.
The chicken was thick. It was terribly under-seasoned. The tomato sauce was like ketchup. The ratio of cheese-to-chicken-to-breadcrumbs was terrible. And who the hecks puts capers in cauliflower? I am going to be honest. I was hungry. I was let-down. I cried over my chicken. I tried to eat a few bites of it. But in the end, I threw it in the bin.
Now, I hated this. Because at $12 a portion – this is the one of the most expensive kitchen-bin-chucking I’ve ever had (which made me cry more). But I did something weird. I saved the second portion. Because I couldn’t bring myself to chuck another $12 into the bin. And then I spent the night obsessing over how I could possibly make it better.
The next day at lunch, I was brave. I took the chicken parm out of the fridge. I had a plan.
1 // Prepare your chicken
– Leave the chicken cold.
– Cut the chicken into thumb-thickness slices, width-ways. To make it pretty, do it on the diagonal, like biscotti.
– Set aside.
2 // Prepare your toast
– Take two pieces of bread (I used some Trader Joe’s Tuscan Pane for it’s light almost sourdough-y taste).
– Butter both sides of the bread. Add a few shakes of garlic salt and oregano to it, to taste.
– Heat a pan or skillet over medium-medium-high (half way between medium and medium high, of course). You don’t have to oil the skillet. The butter’s got you covered.
– Toast the bread to your desired level of toasty-ness. I like toasty golden brown.
Peel the mozzarella cheese off your chicken and put it on the toast. Let it get a little melty and stick to one side of the toast.
3 // This sauce is the boss
– Grab your leftover sauce (either store-bought or homemade). Mix the sauce with a little bit garlic salt and Italian seasoning – just to make it a bit more flavorful.
– Heat in microwave for 30-45 seconds, or just keep it cold. Your preference! (I chose cold.)
4 // Plate
– Put down the piece of toast with the mozzarella cheese facing up. Put a layer of the seasoned sauce.
– Put down the chicken. Add another layer of seasoned sauce.
– Put the last piece of toast.
– Cut and serve immediately.
Now, would you believe it. This sandwich was actually… believe it or not… GOOD! I could eat it! I enjoyed it! It was flavorful and delicious and the cold chicken made me forget how bad it had been the night before. The crunchy, buttery bread added a layer of flavor to the chicken. The garlic from the toast gave it that zing! The extra seasoned sauce helped to make the chicken moist again! I actually liked it!
Now, the moral of this story is that sometimes you spent a lot of time making something and it isn’t up to par. And that’s okay. And either you throw it in the bin, or you create something new! Overall, food is a wonderful, zig-zagg journey of discovery and creation, of trial and error. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. And for those times, there’s always take away pizza.