Chicken parmesan with spaghetti, crusty bread and a salad

Last night we had chicken parmesan with spaghetti. It turned out to be about a 7 on a scale of 1 (inedible/burned) to 10 (gourmet).

(A.J. rated it a 10, but I think he just doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.)

But I’ve done some research and can tell you how to bring your chicken parm up to a level 10.

Here’s what I did:

Dipped the chicken breast in olive oil that I had tossed with some minced garlic.
Dredged the olive oily chicken breast in a Italian Panco breadcrumb/Parmesan cheese mixture.
Baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, flipping at 15 minutes.
Poured about 1/2 bottle of spaghetti sauce over top of each breast, added some slices of provolone cheese on top and broiled at 500 degrees for about 15 more minutes.

Things you can do better:

Go ahead and dip the chicken breast in the garlic olive oil and coat with the cheesy breadcrumb mixture. But chicken Parmesan should really be fried first to get it crispy on the outside. Baking tends to get the breadcrumbs soggy. (My first mistake.) So heat some olive oil in a skillet and fry the chicken on both sides on medium heat. Then smother with sauce and cheese and bake.

Also, pay attention to your chicken to breadcrumb ratio. I ended up using really thick chicken breasts (my second mistake), that I really should have either cut in half or pounded thin. Food network Tyler Florence recommends chicken breasts that are about 1/2 inch thick.

Also, I have a really, really great recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce. And it is so much better than bottled sauce. The recipe makes a big vat of sauce that I usually freeze and pull out a bottle as needed. Last night I didn’t have any left and had to resort to bottled sauce (my third mistake), but I will likely never do it again. If you have time one Sunday afternoon in the coming winter months, do yourself a favor and make the homemade sauce to use for the rest of the winter and spring.

Here are the recipes to make this yourself:

CRACCHIOLA FAMILY HOMEMADE SAUCE (From a Penzey’s magazine):
** I recommend the first time you try this to halve all the ingredients. Finding a pot big enough to handle all this is a challenge. Halving it still filled up my biggest pot. **
48 oz. tomato paste
6 tb. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tb. salt
2 tb. pepper
3 tb. basil
1/2 – 1 tb. oregano
1 tb. parsely
1-4 tb. cane sugar (add 1 at first, and more after tasting to cut the tomatoes’ acidity)
4 1/2 quarts water (= 18 cups)
1 lb. ground beef

1. Brown the meat, and set aside in a colander to drain the fat. (Do not let the fat drain down your sink drain. It will plug it up. But the colander in a bowl. Let the fat jellify and throw it away in the trash can.)
2. Cover the bottom of a large (I mean, large) stock pot with olive oil and sweat the garlic. (Sweat means cook on low heat to prevent browning but soften the garlic.)
3. Add the tomato paste and water. (Take the pot off the heat to do this, so the paste doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.) Add back to the stove, turn up to medium-heat and stir as the water and paste melts.
4. Add all the other ingredients except for the meat. Stir.
5. Turn up the heat to bring to a boil.
6. Lower to a simmer, add ground meat.
7. Simmer and stir often for the next 2 hours. (The water will evaporate and the sauce will thicken.) Taste along the way to see if it needs more sugar or salt and pepper. Do not add more than 4 tb. sugar, even if it seems really acidic.
8. Let cool before bottling. (I save store-bought spaghetti sauce bottles just for this reason. Make sure to leave 2 inches at the top of each bottle, if you plan on sticking them in the freezer.

When you want to use the frozen sauce, take out 8 to 12 hours ahead of time and leave in sink to thaw. If still frozen, run entire jar under hot water.

BETTER CHICKEN PARMESAN (than I made):
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tb. olive oil + more to cook in
2 c. breadcrumbs
2/3 c. grated parmesan cheese
2 tb. basil
4 chicken breasts, cut or pounded to 1/2 inch thick

1. Combine olive oil and garlic in one bowl,
2. Breadcrumbs, basil and parmesan in another.
3. Dip each breast in garlic olive oil, then coat in bread crumbs.
4. Heat oil in a skillet. Fry the chicken in the skillet, browning the outside. (About three to four minutes on each side.)
5. Preheat oven at 500 degrees.
6. Put fried chicken in a PAM’d baking dish. Add slices of provolone cheese on top of each one. And bake until cheese is melted (about 10 to 15 minutes).
7. Serve with homemade spaghetti sauce, with a side of pasta.

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