Big post incoming. Go grab yourself some coffee and settle in.
Since this photo blogging cooking thing seems to be going around the interwebs I thought I might share a few of my favorite recipes with you. We will begin with Chicken (or Eggplant) Parmesan. I’m making this for a meeting the next night as this dish works really well for meals you need to prepare ahead of time. You cook it halfway and then refrigerate. When you’re ready to eat just heat in the oven.
It’s a very tasty recipe and easy to make, though it tends to be a mess and tends to use quite a few dishes in the process. Just something to keep in mind
First off, I’d like to share 2 things I’ve found to be necessary in any cooking endeavor.
And a lovely beverage. My beverage happened to be juice, but anything you enjoy will do. Cooking is hard work!
- Chicken Breasts (Cutlets or Butterflys, we’ll discuss this later) or Eggplant or both as desired. I used one smallish eggplant which made 4 slices and 5 chicken breasts wich made 3 large and 4 small servings.
- Spaghetti sauce. I used Prego Three Cheese, but anything you like will be fine.
- Bread Crumbs. I used Progresso Italian Seasoned. Again, any kind you like will work, though if you use Plain you’ll want to season it yourself or else your breading will be very bland (basil, parsley, and some grated parmesan cheese should work well). For this batch I used about 1 1/2 cups
- Shredded Cheese, not pictured. I like mozzarella, but any white Italian cheese, works great (you can use a blend too).
- Spaghetti. Any strand-like pasta will work
- Eggs. For this batch I needed 3 eggs
- Flour. For this batch I needed about a cup
- Salt and Pepper
- Oil (not pictured)
First we will prep the dredging mixes
Get yourself 3 bowls, wide and flat works better than tall and skinny. In the first bowl put your flour. No matter how big of a batch you’re making you’ll want at least 3/4 of a cup of flour, just so there’s enough to dredge your chicken/eggplant easily. In the second bowl, put your eggs and give them a good beating. In the last bowl put your bread crumbs. Same as the flour, you’ll want plenty in the bowl to work with.
Next, you want to season each bowl with some salt and pepper, I don’t really measure but if I had to guess I’d say it’s about 2 tsp of each in the eggs and breadcrumbs and maybe 3 in the flour. The trick to making this dish taste really good is to season at each step. You don’t have to overload, it’ll just taste like salt, but if you don’t season everything you can wind up with really good chicken, but bland breading (or the other way around!). Give each bowl a good mix to incorporate the salt and pepper.
At this point, if you have any jewelry on, you might want to take it off. I usually don’t take my bracelets off, but the rings can get really nasty.
Get out a large cutting board and your chicken. Trim off the fat and the little flappy thing that I’m holding out in the picture, they should look like this:
At this point you have 2 options for prepping your chicken breasts. Butterflys or Cutlets. A whole chicken breast is too thick for this dish; the breadcrumbs will burn before the chicken gets cooked all the way through. For both options, place the chicken breast flat on your cutting board. Put your left (or non cutting hand) on top and be sure to keep your fingers up and on top of the chicken breast. I find that tucking my thumb and pinky under the other three fingers prevents a lot of cuts. With your knife parallel to the board slice through the chicken breast about half way up the side, using long strokes. After each stroke you may need to open up the chicken to properly reposition the knife. To make a butterfly, leave a little bit still attached on the side and open it up so that it lays flat. For cutlets, just cut all the way through. Since this takes 2 hands I was unable to take photos of the process, but here’s the finished product:
Next, though I didn’t get a picture, season the chicken with salt and pepper.
This is fairly simple. Trim off the stem and the end and cut into slices about 1 1/2 inches thick. I like to cut on a bias (about 45 degrees) as it will make the slices a little closer to “chicken-breast” size. If you cut on a bias, you’ll have 2 little wedges from the ends leftover, you can use them if you like, but I just threw them out as the breading doesn’t stick very well to the skin of the eggplant.
The trick to easy dredging is to switch hands. You’ll need a “wet” hand and a “dry” hand. If you use the same hand for each stage you wind up breading your fingers over and over and it’s very difficult to work.
Grab your first piece of chicken (or eggplant, it works the same for both) and place it in the flour bowl. Notice I’m using my left hand.
Turn it over, flop it around, just make sure all surfaces get covered in flour.
Next, transfer to the egg bowl. Again, make sure all surfaces are covered. Notice I’m using my right hand.
Lastly, transfer to the breadcrumb bowl. Again, make extra-super-double-sure that all surfaces are covered. Notice I’m back to my left hand.
Eggplant follows the same procedure, though covering ALL sides doesn’t work quite as well since none of it sticks very well to the skin. Just make sure the rest is covered.
Frying and Boiling
Now you’ll want to get a large skillet (the biggest you’ve got) and put enough oil to cover the bottom in about 1/4-1/2 inch of oil. I use vegetable oil. Light olive oil will give a better flavor but it’s kind of expensive. Heat the oil over med-high heat, you’ll know it’s ready when a little pinch of breading sizzles and pops when tossed into the oil. Also, put a large pot of water on to boil. Both of these can be done while you are prepping the chicken and/or eggplant but I always forget.
Place a couple pieces of chicken or eggplant in your skillet once the oil is hot (don’t crowd the pan!).
When the breading is Golden Brown & Delicious flip the chicken/eggplant over and fry the other side. This will take a minute or three per side.
When the second side is done, remove the chicken/eggplant to some paper towels to drain off the extra grease. Work in batches until all your chicken and/or eggplant is cooked.
When your water comes to a boil, add some salt. If you don’t already know to do this, it will make your pasta taste a lot better!
Cook the pasta according to the package directions and,
drain and set aside when it’s done. You could toss in with a little olive oil to prevent sticking if you so desired.
Put It All Together
If you are going to eat this right away, you’ll want to heat the spaghetti sauce, if you’re cooking ahead of time you can spoon straight from the jar, as I have done. Put some sauce in the bottom of a baking dish, just enough to cover the bottom in a thin layer, and place your chicken/eggplant in the dish. If you need to, you can overlap the pieces a little but you want most of the surface to be exposed for cheese-iffication.
Spoon a little sauce on top of each piece. If you like sauce a lot, go ahead and slather it all over. Me, I like just a little bit.
Top each piece with some cheese. I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but you CAN put too much cheese on this dish. If you put too much cheese it doesn’t melt evenly and can get kind of greasy when the fats come out of the cheese. You want a nice, even layer, covering the entire exposed surface of each piece.
The chicken works the same way.
If you’re cooking ahead of time, stop here, cover the baking dish and refrigerate until you’re ready to eat! You’d probably be good preping up to 3 days in advance.
Just for you, Internet, I set aside 2 servings of the chicken so that I could show you how to finish the recipe. Just for you, I made this sacrifice… and so that I could have dinner the night I made this.
Preheat your oven to 350. You can do this whenever, but I never think about it until everything’s ready to go into the oven.
Bake for 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is good and melted. If you cooked ahead of time, take the dish out of the fridge about 30 mins before baking and let it come to room temperature, then bake for 15-20 minutes.
You can stop here, and serve just like this, but if you want that awesome, restaurant-like finish, turn on the broiler and move the rack up to the top.
You’ll need to watch closely, it will only take a few minutes to give the cheese a nice browning. Unfortunately Golden Brown & Delicious is remarkably close to Burned and Nasty.
I like to serve this over a bed of pasta and a little sauce. Salad and garlic bread would be a nice addition but as you might have noticed from the shot of my oven on preheat, it was 11:00 at night… salad and garlic bread just weren’t going to happen.