Lighter Chicken Parmigiana is a healthy take on the classic heavy version, yet does not sacrifice flavor! Still boasting flavors of crispy chicken, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. It's an approachable version that's easy to make during the week.
I know I talk a lot on here about comfort food. I mean, my whole blog is named for cravings. Which if we're being honest, cravings are usually for comfort food. And as you know, I love to take heavy comfort food cravings and turn them into something better for you, lighter for your waistline, and something you could have again and again. Sometimes by giving these indulgent recipes a makeover they also become more approachable to make at home, when you would have usually gone to a restaurant or gotten takeout for a fix.
The reason I'm talking about this again is because Chicken Parmigiana is one of my favorite Italian comfort foods. Whenever I travel back home to Long Island I somehow wind up getting it. Its like one of those dishes you unconsciously order and don’t realize how it got in front of you. Just me?
When done right, the cut of meat is thin and fried to tender golden perfection. The sauce is perfectly sweet and fresh – contrasting the oil flavor from the fried chicken, and the mozzarella blankets the whole thing in a stringy, mild, creaminess. Not to mention some freshly torn basil on top. Do I have you convinced yet?
Now, believe me, I have made the fried version at home, and its wonderful for when I want to indulge. But what about when I don’t? or what about when I want to have these fantastic flavors during the week and I don’t have time to stand around and fry chicken? Or it's scorching hot out and the last thing I want to do is stand in front of the stove with hot oil attacking my face, mmm. What then?!
Alas, I don’t have an air fryer (I need to get on that after we move and have more storage space). But for now, what I do have is my oven! And you would think, baked chicken breast should not come out tasting like something I’m craving…but you’d be wrong!
If we do basically every step of the real deal, except we bake this lighter chicken parmigiana at a high temp on a rack where the hot air can circulate underneath, you will get crispy tender chicken. This also cuts out sooo much time as you’re free while the oven does the cooking for you. And I promise you that all those glorious flavors I described above will still shine through. Not to mention the amount of calories baking it in hot air cuts out vs. frying it in hot oil.
A couple of tips on making this delicious:
- You can certainly try this recipe without a rack on your baking sheet, but you absolutely should use one if you have one. Just trust me on this. If you’d like to buy one because they are SO multi-purposeful to begin with (bacon in the oven, fried anything else in the oven, cooling desserts, a french toast sticks recipe I'm coming out with soon...etc), I’ve linked one below.
- While we're on the topic of cookware, DO make sure you’re using a baking sheet and not a casserole dish. The high sides on a casserole dish will cause heat to settle in the pan & get trapped and this will create steam – so the chicken you want to be crispy, will instead be getting steamed and will hence definitely not be crispy!
- Use thin fillets of chicken breast for this recipe. You can cut your own down, buy it prepared already, but you do not want to just throw a big chicken breast into this dish because it's just not going to have the outcome you’re going for: thin crispy tender chicken.
- The better quality sauce you use, the better it will come out. I typically always make my sauce from scratch, which is what this recipe entails, but I usually make extra and save it in case I want to have something like this during the week and don’t have time to make sauce from scratch. If I don’t have either (time or leftover homemade sauce), I WILL use jarred sauce, but I am very picky about it. My go-to brand is Rao’s – they are delicious and worth the $8 a jar.
- Mozzarella. Oh, how I love thee. You can use skim or whole milk – it's your preference here. You can also buy fresh mozzarella vs the block. The choice is yours. But one thing I’ll tell you that totally makes a difference after a lifetime of trying is the cut of the cheese. Shredded, cubed, or sliced? Thick or thin? Ok so, I’ll just tell you off the bat that cubed is out. It’s not going to create that ‘blanket’ of cheese that we’re looking for here. Shredded – sure you can go this route, I don’t have a problem with it. Sliced – this is by far my favorite. Typically I’ll buy a block of cheese and use a cheese slicer to pull slices off the block so its nice and thin. If you can slice your cheese super thin with a sharp knife, then go for it. If either scenario's don’t work for you, just buy a package of mozzarella pre-sliced! Easy.
Okay – I might have just told you a whole lot more than you knew went into making this dish, but this lighter chicken parmigiana is going to come out fantastic now! Trust me when I say that my first ever chicken parm that I cooked by myself at 17 was a nightmare. I mean, we still ate it, but thick-cut of chicken? Check. Casserole dish? Check. Cubed mozzarella? Check. So I have definitely come a long way in both fried and baked versions in 13 years! Mangia!
You'll probably be need this tomato sauce recipe!
Lighter Chicken Parmigiana
- 4 4 oz thin chicken breast fillets
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp milk
- Olive oil to drizzle
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 6 oz mozzarella sliced skim or whole milk
- Fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 400
Pat chicken breasts dry with a paper towel and season each side with salt and pepper to taste.
Set up two deep dishes or medium bowls to dredge the chicken in: set breadcrumbs in one bowl with the grated cheese and egg and milk in the other bowl. Mix breadcrumbs and cheese together. Whisk the egg and milk together.
One by one, dip the chicken into the egg wash and then into the breadcrumbs, turning to fully coat. Use a fork to spoon it all over the chicken if its missing in areas.
Set chicken onto a rack set in a baking sheet. Drizzle lightly over the top with olive oil.
Bake the chicken for 15 minutes (for thin fillets, longer if your pieces are thicker)
After the chicken is done, spoon sauce on top of each piece and top with mozzarella. Change oven to broil on high.
Broil chicken parm now for 5 minutes, until sauce is starting to bubble.
Top each piece with fresh basil. Serve alongside pasta, garlic bread, salad, etc!
• Serve over pasta, with a salad, or with garlic bread…or ON garlic bread ????
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