I LOVE Italian cuisine, but rarely eat it at a restaurant.
The main reason I don’t like to eat at an Italian restaurant is that I typically find their sauces to be either too bland or too sweet. I’m never sure why this is… is it because it costs extra money and takes extra time to do a sauce right? My ‘gravy’ is neither bland nor sweet… a 15-quart batch costs me $130 to make and simmers for six hours, start-to-finish. So, I need to ask the question: do Italian restaurants feel the cost and time isn’t worth it? I mean, they charge $22 for a bowl of pasta… why don’t they believe their customers deserve a decent gravy atop their home-made pasta?
The second reason I don’t like to dine at an Italian restaurant is that I order chicken parmigiana at least half the time, and it is almost always too thick and tough (chewy). I like my chicken parm to be ‘tenderized’… and restaurants rarely take the time to do it properly.
When I make it at home, I remove all of the fat and skin from the breast, and remove the tenderloin (which I bake along with the breast in the oven). I place the breast on top of a wooden cutting board and cover it with a large freezer storage bag of a significant thickness, to prevent contamination of the food prep area. I then pull out my mallet… and proceed to pound the bejeezus out of it.
The breast meat needs to be tender when I eat it. I don’t want it to be ‘chewy’, as it almost always is at a restaurant. So I pound the breast… and pound it… and pound it some more. Four or five whacks at a time, administered to alternating areas of the breast. After each series of four or five whacks, I feel the breast with my left hand (I pound with my right). Then I apply another series of four or five strikes… and oft-times a third or fourth series of blows… always feeling the breast with my off-hand in between series.
Once you have prepared and then eaten chicken parm two or three times, you will recognize how much ‘pounding’ the breast needs to tenderize it sufficiently. It’s hard to describe it. As a general rule, the breast will typically end up approx. one-half the thickness as when I started the process… maybe a little less.
The goal is to break up the density of the chicken meat…and you can tell how well you have accomplished this task by feeling with your left hand.
If you want to try another way of eating chicken parm, try making it in ‘wraps’. Boil the breast, shred it, and place the meat in an egg roll wrapper. See Andie Mitchell’s recipe, here.