The Best Make-Up Meal: Chicken Parmesana

John McManamy Health Guide
  • My wife’s “death row last meal” would be chicken parmesana. Whether the meal would kill her first or the lethal injection is a matter of conjecture. It is often the dish I make for her after we’ve had an argument, but believe it or not I’m not trying to poison her.

    Chicken is the mainstay meat of any health-conscious home cook. Four ounces of boneless skinless breast meat packs the same protein as an equivalent amount of beef, minus the saturated fat (less than a gram vs four to five grams for the leaner cuts of beef). Steam it and toss it on some rabbit food and you’re well on the road to Buddhahood.
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    But get stupid with chicken – fry it in the wrong oil, ladle on the wrong ingredients – and you’re in for countless lifetimes of endless suffering. Fortunately, the Buddha preaches the Middle Way.

    McMan’s Nirvana Chicken Parm

    Rinse and pat dry four 4-oz pieces of boneless skinless chicken breast. Place each breast, one at a time, into a plastic bag and pound lightly with a small frying pan until the breast is of uniform thickness, about ½ inch.

    Salt then dredge each breast in flour, and shake off excess flour. Dip each breast in Egg Beaters (or an equivalent brand), making sure the meat is thoroughly coated. Now drop the pieces one at a time into a plate of bread crumbs, once again making sure the meat is thoroughly coated. Some cooks like to add some parmesan cheese to the bread crumbs.

    Fry each chicken piece in heated olive or canola oil about two minutes on each side until the pieces are golden brown. Do not crowd the pieces. Otherwise, the meat will steam, which will do a number to the bread crumbs. If in doubt, fry the chicken in separate batches or one at a time. Also, do not move the pieces till they’re ready for turning over. Otherwise, the bread crumb coating will stick to the pan. Remove the pieces, set on paper towels to absorb the excess oil, then place in a baking pan.

    The sauce is simple, a small can of tomato paste with two or three cups of water (never use tomato sauce in Italian cooking), powdered garlic and chopped fresh basil optional. Ladle evenly over the pieces.

    Now this is where most cooks go wrong. Your typical chicken parm recipe calls for about four ounces of mozzarella cheese. My guess is most restaurants use this amount for just one serving. One ounce of mozarella adds up to about four ounces of saturated fat, about the same as the equivalent amount of lean beef.

    This is where we need to get smart. Shop carefully. Some low-fat versions can have as much sat fat as some high fat versions. You’re looking for about three grams of sat fat per 1-oz serving. There is no sacrifice to taste and texture. Buy the shredded variety. This way you can safely sprinkle on small amounts, cutting the sat fat down to just about nothing. If you can’t find the right cheese, buy one high fat package, and another no-fat package, mix together and freeze the excess.

    I’m a firm believer that too much cheese is overkill (quite literally) and adds nothing to a dish. A good chicken parm in my opinion should have lots of sauce showing on top. But if you want your dish looking like a cheese pizza, I suggest adding no-fat cheddar made from soy. Believe it or not, you get a much better taste that way rather than simply piling on yet more mozzarella. I also like to grate on just a bit of fresh parmesan (a very little goes an extremely long way). Ironically, hardly any chicken parm recipes call for parmesan cheese.

  • Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes (depending on the condition of your oven). Serve with penne pasta coated in some of the sauce, plus Italian bread, and salad. Serves four. The dish also works great as a left-over, hot or cold. Put one of these babies between two slices of bread, and lunch will never be the same.
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    For more of John's recipes, check out his recipe corner.

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Published On: April 10, 2006