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~ Not Your Mama's Chicken-Parm Garlic-Bread Subs ~

IMG_3466Interestingly, I am not one who believes chicken parmesan, or "chicken parm" as it is affectionately referred to, should be slapped between two slices of bread and eaten like a sandwich.  I simply prefer it on a plate with pasta and a side of garlic bread -- I feel the same way about meatballs.  AND, along the same lines and in the same manner that meatballs got taken away from spaghetti and transitioned to the incredible, edible Italian-American meatball sub, many folks, a few of them in my own family, do not subscribe to my opinion on this point.  

Pollo alla parmigiana:  Chicken- parmigiana, parmesan or parm.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f48aec970dLike its predecessor eggplant parmesan, and its cousin veal parmesan, chicken parmesan is an Italian meal familiar to many living outside of Italy.  For example: Italian-Australians are as fond of it as Italian-Americans, where home cooks, fine-dining restaurant chefs and fast-food eateries take some creative license with it to offer their own variations of the dish (a thinly-sliced or lightly-pounded chicken breast that gets coated in breadcrumbs then baked,  pan-fried or sometimes deep-fried until crispy. A combination of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses get melted over the top followed by a drizzle of tomato sauce and a basil-leaf garnish.  Interestingly, the dish typically doesn't contain as much parmesan cheese as the name would lead one to believe -- it gets its name from the the Italian region of Parma, where it's said the dish hails from.

In the United States, the dish originated in the Northeast.  Recipes were created by Italian-Americans and Italian immigrants looking to take advantage of America's affordable meat market by incorporating chicken into parmigiana.  By the early 1950's, it, was a popular menu item in almost all Italian-American restaurants.  A recipe, using frozen fried chicken patties or cutlets and other processed foods, was published in the 1953 issue of The New York Herald Tribune, which became trendy with the average home cooks of the era.  A decade later, in 1962, a recipe for real-deal chicken parmigiana was featured in The New York Times, and, the rest is history. 

"When ya can't beat 'em, join 'em", so, here I am, making my own kick-ass version of this popular submarine sandwich.  There's more, I'm taking my own creative license (as I should).  I'm batter-dipping and deep-frying my chicken, and, assembling my sandwiches on garlic bread.

My choice of bread crumbs, & why I batter-dip & deep-fry.

6a0120a8551282970b0154383e5645970cWhy in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to continue to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to make parmigiana if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.

Meet the first change I made to this classic recipe.  "Panko" is the Japanese word for "bread crumbs", and theirs are considerably crispier and crunchier than our Western ones.  Whats more, they absorb less grease, more flavor and stay crispy a lot longer.  This simple substitution is a game changer.

6a0120a8551282970b01675eb49e90970bThe ties that bind.  After a showdown between the traditional watery egg-milk mixture vs. a trendy beer batter, the beer batter won hands-down.  In fact, it wasn't even a competition.  Who wouldn't want a super-crunchy coating that doesn't fall off or separate from the parmigiana afterwards?  No one.  

My beer batter doesn't use ordinary all-purpose flour either.  I added pancake mix to the new playbook too. Having fun so far?

6a0120a8551282970b01675eb51084970bIn my humble opinion, God put deep-fryers on this earth for a good reason and I now believe that parmigiana might have been at the top of his list -- 'tis true.

Put away that skillet and enjoy the mess-free ease of how this relatively inexpensive (about $60.00) countertop appliance regulates temperature and perfectly cooks each piece of parmigiana. Who wants a crunchy, crispy, stay-put coating on a succulent, moist and juicy piece of chicken or veal parmigiana?  Of course, we all do.

Who wants a stovetop full of grease spatters and a ton of cleanup?  Not me, but this choice remains yours.

Use breast tenderloins & tenderize the tenderist part of the chicken.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970cFor about $14-$15 at any of my local markets, I can purchase a "value pack" of 6-pounds chicken breast tenderloins, It contains approximately 30 tenderloins, which when breaded and deep-fried, are good-sized cutlets -- one or per two person.  Once I get them home, I arrange them side-by-side, on a large cutting board, between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Using the flat-side of a meat mallet, I lightly-pound them, with "lightly" being the key word here -- do not smash them to smithereens.   Start-to-finish, this process takes less than five minutes and renders them fork tender.  

Tip from Mel:  No matter how many I need for the recipe, sometimes just ten or twelve, I always pound them prior to freezing for future use -- they thaw quickly and are ready in use in minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f49323970dSet up a deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f488af970dChicken tenderloins, prepped as directed above.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups dry pancake mix.

One loaf-pan containing 2 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 22 ounces beer (Note:  Beer lends wonderful flavor with yeasty undertones to the breading.  That said, if I can't convince you that the heat of the deep-fryer will evaporate all the alcohol, feel free to substitute club soda.)

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2, 8-ounces boxes panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/corn or peanut oil heated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  forks, 3-minute timer, wire cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f488ea970d~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or club soda) to maintain a very drizzly consistency.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512dc9970b~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to chicken cutlets, I prefer the texture of my panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) to be less coarse.  To make that happen:

Place panko in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, process these super-crispy breadcrumbs to finer crumbs.

Fry Baby Fry -- It's all about Fearless Frying.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b~Step 1.  Working in batches of 2 tenders at a time, dredge each pair in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 2 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Next, move up the assembly line, and, one-at-a-time dip each tender into the batter.  As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  As you batter dip each tender, place it into the dish of panko. Dredge both of the cutlets in the panko ASAP.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e04970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e04970bStep 2.  One-at-a-time, and with the aid of a fork, carefully lower the pair of breaded tenders down into the 375° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow tenders to deep-fry for 3-3 1/2 minutes.  Tenders will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not overcook -- residual heat will continue to cook them.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e1f970bStep 3.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer tenders to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the tenders, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- it's an easy way to damage their crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle tenders with freshly ground sea salt and repeat this process until all tenders are breaded and fried.

Assembling & baking the chicken-parm garlic-bread subs.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c618fa200bFor 4, 6"-6 1/2" chicken parmigiana sub sandwiches (listed in order of assembly):

4, 6"-6 1/2" high-quality submarine/hoagie-type rolls, your favorite brand

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39c00ac200ca great garlic bread spread for great garlic bread, preferably homemade, prepared in advance of baking the chicken parmesan (Stir together: 1 1/2 sticks room temp salted butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, 4 tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

8  slices deli-style, sliced provolone cheese

a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend

a sprinkling of red pepper flakes

6  batter-dipped, panko-crusted, deep-fried chicken tenders, warm or at room temperature, cut in half lengthwise to form 12 chicken fingers (3 per sandwich)

1/3-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, or, 2 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese 

1-1 1/2  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite store-bought brand

2  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

chiffonade (a French word meaning "thin-strips" or "little ribbons") of fresh basil leaves, for garnish

IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441~Step 1. To assemble the sandwiches, use a serrated bread knife to slice the rolls, placing each one on an aluminum foil sheet as you work.  Slather both sides of the open-faced roll with a generous coating of the garlic bread spread.  Gather the foil up to form a loose, wide-open-at-the-top packet and place packets 5 1/2" under preheated broiler for 1 1/2-2 minutes, until bubbly and golden.  Remove from oven.  Arrange 2 slices of provolone over each roll and lightly season with a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.  Reset oven to bake at 350º.    

IMG_3454 IMG_3454 IMG_3454 IMG_3454~Step 2.  Slice chicken tenders in half lengthwise, to form thin strips (chicken fingers).  Arrange 3 strips/fingers in the center of each roll.  Top tender strips with either 2 slices sliced mozzarella or 1/3-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, your choice.  Gather the foil up and around each sandwich and form a tight seal.  Bake on center rack of 350º degree oven for 8-9 minutes. Remove from oven, unwrap and top each sandwich with 4-6 tablespoons marinara sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a light chiffonade of fresh basil leaf garnish.  Serve ASAP.

Crispy garlic-bread, gooey cheese, tender parm, sauce & basil:

IMG_3479There's no right or wrong way to eat a chicken parmigiana sub:

IMG_3489Not Your Mama's Chicken-Parm Garlic-Bread Subs:  Recipe yields 4 hearty and hot chicken parmigiana sub sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: plastic wrap; cutting board; flat-sided meat mallet; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 9" x 4" loaf-type dish; tongs; deep-fryer; wire cooling rack; paper towels; aluminum foil sheets; serrated bread knife

IMG_3840Cook's Note: In my food world, there is  no right or wrong way to make or eat any Italian-style sub -- they're pretty straightforward.  In my recipe for  ~ The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub ~ my ground chicken meatballs are infused with lots of onion, garlic, basil, egg and fresh Italian-bread crumbs.  What do they do?  They add the requisite moisture and flavor to an otherwise dry, rather tasteless, lackluster protein. These will make you rethink ground chicken.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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