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A Classic Redefined: Chicken Parmesan

An Italian-American favorite, with emphasis on the hyphen.

This story begins with eggplant. But before launching into the origins of one of the world’s most favorite chicken entrées, a word about this new series, Classics Redefined. This article takes a similar approach, presenting a fresh look at a familiar dish and exploring new options for ingredients and sides. It’s also the start of a new series called Classics Redefined, which will appear several times throughout the year.

What’s the connection between eggplant and chicken parmesan? In southern Italy, there is in fact a dish known as eggplant parmigiana. Food historians point to it as the predecessor of the meat-based recipes that originated on the east coast of the United States in the early- to mid-20th century. In America, chicken and veal were readily available at a more reasonable cost than in Italy, and newcomers adopted what they knew from the old country to the new. What’s next for this Italian-American classic? It’s time to find out.

Get to know fennel.

Fennel originated in the Mediterranean region and is a cold season vegetable. Just looking at it, some people might mistake it for celery or even dill. But once you taste this crunchy, slightly sweet vegetable with a licorice-like, anise flavor, the fresh taste of fennel is unmistakable. It’s a welcome addition to many different recipes, and all of it is edible — the bulb, fronds and seeds. This recipe features a sauce made with onion, garlic, fresh rosemary, sliced fennel, fennel seeds and San Marzano tomatoes. If you can’t find fresh tomatoes, look for the canned version (whole tomatoes, 28 ounces, undrained).

Lean chicken, maximum flavor.

The key to perfectly cooked chicken is to flatten the chicken into an even thickness with a meat mallet or rolling pin. Dipped into lightly beaten eggs, the cutlets will be dredged in a mixture of coarsely ground cornmeal, garlic powder and fresh mozzarella cheese. The initial baking time is brief, just 12 minutes. Heat through until internal temperature reads 165ºF. Remove, top with parmesan cheese and return to the oven for a few more minutes. This dish is ready for your fennel-rich sauce and a perfect side.

Perfect with polenta.

You can definitely serve this dish with pasta, and many people do. But here’s another idea — pre-cooked polenta, available in the produce section of your grocery store. It perfectly complements the cornmeal the chicken is coated with, and it’s gluten-free. For a perfect veggie side, a quick sauté of zucchini squash cut into long, thin slices is ideal.

Find a night soon for this new take on chicken parmesan. Family and friends will smile at the mere mention. But once they see, smell and taste how a classic can be redefined, they — like you — will look forward to many more creative new meals to come.