Chicken Champions

Cook’s Illustrated’s Chicken Parmesan Is Basically Perfect

updated Mar 11, 2020
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fork with a piece of chicken parm
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Design: Kitchn

This month on Kitchn we’re battling off some of the most popular chicken recipes; this week, it’s all about chicken Parmesan. Because there’s a seemingly endless number of chicken Parm recipes on the internet, picking just four contenders wasn’t easy — but the number of recommendations I got for Cook’s Illustrated‘s version made it a little easier.

Cook’s Illustrated takes a methodical and meticulous approach to writing recipes for its magazines, website, and TV shows. I was excited to see what this would mean for chicken Parmesan, a dish so often plagued with soggy breading and rubbery cheese. Had Cook’s Illustrated cracked the code, or would I be left with a disappointing dish? I headed to the kitchen to find out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Design: Kitchn

How to Make Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Chicken Parmesan

You’ll begin by making the sauce. Heat extra-virgin olive oil with garlic, salt, dried oregano, and spicy red pepper flakes. When fragrant, stir in crushed tomatoes and sugar, then bring the sauce to a simmer and let it gently bubble until thickened. Remove from the heat and add fresh basil, another tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Next, you’ll prepare the chicken, cutting each boneless, skinless chicken breast in half horizontally and pounding each 1/2-inch thick. Season each side of the chicken cutlets with salt and set aside for 20 minutes, while you set up the breading station. Combine one egg with one tablespoon flour in a shallow dish, then mix Parmesan cheese, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, oregano, and pepper in a second shallow dish. If the chicken cutlets have collected excess moisture from sitting with the salt, dry them with a paper towel. Then, dredge them in the egg-flour mix and coat in the Parmesan-panko mix.

Pan-fry the cutlets, in batches, in a nonstick skillet until the first side is crisp and brown. Turn with tongs and continue to cook the second side. Drain on paper towels, then transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with shredded whole-milk mozzarella and fontina cheeses. Broil just until the cheese melts and browns. Plate the chicken, spoon a few tablespoons of tomato sauce over the cheese, and finish with fresh basil.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

My Honest Review of Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Chicken Parmesan

This plate of chicken Parmesan is hands-down the best chicken Parmesan I’ve ever eaten. The recipe is extremely detailed, without feeling laborious. It includes specific instructions for every single step, down to exactly how much salt to use in seasoning the sides of chicken breasts, and a precise quantity of sauce to spoon over the top of each cutlet.

The biggest thing that stood out to me about this recipe is how tender and well-seasoned the chicken is, which is no small feat for boneless, skinless breasts. Salting both sides of the chicken and letting them rest for 20 minutes gave the salt time to pull moisture out of the chicken, which, when reabsorbed, seasons the meat from the inside out. This dry brining technique takes a little bit of time, but is absolutely worth it.

This recipe also takes a smart shortcut, abbreviating the standard three-step breading procedure by combining the first two steps, a flour dredge and egg bath, into a single step. Parmesan also makes up three-quarters of the breading, which gives the cutlets great flavor and crisp texture without the sogginess of breadcrumbs.

The smartest move of all though comes when you plate the food. The Parmesan-and-panko encrusted cutlets is covered in a blanket of gooey melted fontina and mozzarella, then the sauce is spooned on top. The cheese creates a moisture-proof barrier between the pan-fried chicken and sauce, so every bite is a mix of crispy, melty, and saucy.

Credit: Patty Catalano

If You’re Making Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Chicken Parmesan, a Few Tips

  1. Use your favorite pan for frying. The recipe calls for frying the chicken in a 10-inch nonstick pan, which ensures the cheese-laden breading won’t stick. But I had no issue with the cutlets adhering to the pan, so go ahead and use your favorite 10-inch skillet for this — nonstick, stainless, or cast iron. Cast iron is a great option for pan-frying since it maintains heat well, minimizing the chance of the oil’s temperature dropping.
  2. Don’t substitute the cheeses. Tempted to use the block of part-skim mozzarella from the cheese drawer, or finish the ball of fresh mozzarella leftover from pizza night? Don’t. The combination of whole-milk mozzarella and fontina cheeses is right for a reason. Fresh mozzarella has a mild, milky flavor and soft texture that works great in uncooked applications, but turns rubbery and bland when broiled, and part-skim mozzarella doesn’t have the richness or creaminess of whole-milk mozzarellas. Fontina adds a gooey texture and nutty flavor, and the blocks of whole milk mozzarella melt into creamy perfection.

Rating: 10/10

Have you ever made Cook’s Illustrated’s chicken Parmesan? Tell us what you thought!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Design: Kitchn