serves: 4 servings
This is a more contemporary version of one of the standbys of Italian-American cooking. Instead of coating a thin, breaded and fried chicken cutlet with tomato sauce, I like to top a chicken thigh with sliced fresh tomatoes and slices of fresh mozzarella or Fontina cheese. A light sauce made with fresh tomatoes and basil finishes the plate. Fontina is a mellow, lightly aged cow's milk cheese that melts beautifully. Take the time to search out imported Fontina-you'll appreciate the creamy difference. You can prepare this dish using veal, turkey or pork cutlets as well.
4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, or breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
all-purpose flour for dredging
¾ cup fine dry breadcrumbs or seasoned breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
3 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and sliced thin
6 ounces fresh mozzarella or imported Fontina cheese, sliced thin
For the Sauce
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the finished dish
6 garlic cloves, peeled
8 ripe tomatoes or 12 plum tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, shredded
Cut off any fat, bone and gristle remaining on the chicken thighs. Place two thighs between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound them lightly with the toothed side of a meat mallet to a more or less even thickness. Don't overpound the thighs or they will shred and be difficult to bread and cook. Season the chicken thighs lightly with salt and pepper. Spread out the flour and breadcrumbs on two separate plates. Beat the eggs in a wide shallow bowl until thoroughly blended. Dredge the chicken in flour to coat lightly and tap off excess flour. Dip the thighs in the beaten egg, hold them over the bowl, letting the excess egg drip back into the bowl. Transfer the chicken, one piece at a time to the plate of breadcrumbs, turn it to coat with breadcrumbs, patting gently and making sure that each thigh is well coated with breadcrumbs.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wide, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until a corner of one of the coated thighs gives off a lively sizzle when dipped in the oil. Add as many of the chicken pieces as fit without touching to the oil. Fry, turning once, until golden on both sides and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Remove to a baking sheet lined with paper towels and drain well.
Remove the paper towels from the baking sheet. Top each chicken thigh with overlapping slices of tomato, dividing the tomato evenly. Drape the sliced cheese over the tomatoes to cover the chicken completely. (The chicken parmigiana can be prepared to this point up to several hours in advance. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.)
Preheat the oven to 400 Degrees F.
Prepare the sauce: Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a wide non-reactive skillet. Whack the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and drop them into the oil. Cook, shaking the pan, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully slide the chopped tomatoes into the skillet, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook until lightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Bake the chicken until the cheese is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. While the chicken is baking, reheat the tomato sauce to simmering, stir in the basil and taste, seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Spoon the sauce onto a heated platter or plates and place the chicken over the sauce. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over the sauce and serve immediately.