Published March 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.
What good does it do to create a crisp crust on this Italian American standard if it turns soggy as soon as it’s sauced? We wanted a juicy cutlet that kept its crunch.
Making chicken Parmesan—fried, breaded cutlets topped with sauce and cheese—should be a cinch, right? But in reality, this familiar dish is often plagued with a soggy crust, dry meat, and tough-as-leather cheese.
We wanted a wonderful combination of juicy chicken; crisp crust; and rich, cheesy flavor offset by a zippy tomato sauce.
First, we wondered if we could avoid the usual frying step by coating the chicken with precrisped crumbs and a bit of fat and then baking it—an approach that could potentially simplify the dish and make it a bit lighter at the same time.
Pounding the chicken very thin increased the likelihood of overcooking when frying, but taking the breasts straight from the packaging to the breading didn’t work. Eventually, we settled on slicing two large breasts horizontally and pounding only the thick end of each piece to achieve a consistent 1/2-inch thickness from end to end. We then salted the cutlets for 20 minutes, knowing that the salt would penetrate the surface of the meat and alter the proteins in such a way as to help them hold on to more of their moisture.
We then turned to the crust problem. The first and biggest issue is that bread crumbs are starch, and starch readily absorbs liquid and turns soft. Second, completely covering the crusted cutlets in a very wet sauce exposes the most crust to the most liquid. And third, waiting around for the cheese to melt in the oven gives the sauce plenty of time to saturate and soften the crust. Replacing more than half of the bread crumbs with grated Parmesan made the crust more moisture-proof. The mozzarella was still forming a leathery layer on top, though, so we added creamy, nutty fontina. Used in equal parts, the two cheeses provided the perfect combination of authentic Italian flavor and tender, soft texture.
The last problem was the sogginess. Instead of putting the cheese combo on top of the sauce, we placed it between the crust and the sauce so it melted to form a cheesy raincoat that protected the cutlet. Sogginess? Gone. Finally, our dish was worth the effort.list of recipes