I often find that my kids’ palates are disappointingly narrow. I spend a good bit of time thinking about ways to get them to try and eat new foods. After having Chicken Parmesan for dinner at Theresa’s house one evening, I was inspired to try making it myself – the only problem was, my children wouldn’t even touch it at Theresa’s house. Not liking to set myself up for failure, I decided I’d make a deconstructed Chicken Parm – spaghetti, pan-fried chicken, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese all served separately, so that even the pickiest eaters would be able to pick for themselves how to eat it.
Curious about the differences between serving everything separately, Theresa and I decided to put it to the test. And so was born this month’s Chicken Parmesan Showdown!
Our testers assembled one evening for dinner. Two sets of grandparents, four parents, and six kids (aged 2-9) were in attendance. Theresa, who had made the traditional Chicken Parmesan ahead of time, brought everything ready to go. I, meanwhile, was running around trying to get everything on the table at exactly the right moment at exactly the right temperature: spaghetti, pan-fried chicken, marinara sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese. I was a bit harried, as Theresa pointed out while she helped me get the side dishes on the table. She prefers the traditional baked version because it allows her not to have that last-minute prep stress. Which, I have to admit, is a good point.
Our testers enjoyed the texture of the pan-fried deconstructed chicken. It was still crispy, so there was a good crunch to it, even when assembled with the spaghetti, sauce, and cheese. It was also moister and more tender than the baked dish. The texture of the traditional baked dish was less crisp (which a few of our testers actually preferred!).
However, the flavor of the traditional baked dish was preferred by nearly everyone (including, I must admit, myself). The flavor of the sauce permeated the breading, and the cheese on top was not only melty but browned and crispy. The overall dish was fantastic. I will note here that the majority of the children did not vote, but their strong preference for the deconstructed dish was noted not by what they put on their plates, but what they actually ate from their plates.
As for myself, I will keep making the deconstructed dish – for now. We’re working on getting our little eaters to be more adventurous, but they’re not quite there yet.
What about you – which will you try? What will your family prefer?
What you need:
- 1 1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken, cut into 4 oz. portions
- 1/2 c. flour
- 1 egg
- 3/4 c. panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
- 1 t. garlic powder
- 1/8 t. salt
- olive oil, for pan-frying
- 1 lb. spaghetti or penne (our tasters preferred spaghetti)
- 1 qt. marinara sauce
- 1-2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
- large pot for boiling pasta
- shallow trays for breading chicken
- knife and cutting board for cutting chicken
- large griddle or skillet and spatula
- measuring cups and spoons
- 9″x13″ casserole dish (for baked version only)
Chicken Parmesan, pan-fried and then served with marinara sauce and mozzarella on the side:
Chicken Parmesan, pan-fried chicken and then baked over marinara sauce with mozzarella on top:
Time: Half an hour for the deconstructed dish. 60 minutes for the traditional baked dish (30 minutes prep, 25-30 minutes for baking).
Multiplying the recipe: Yes, but you’ll need to pan-fry the chicken in batches.
Chicken Parmesan, Two Ways:
In three separate shallow trays, place:
- egg, beaten
- panko, Parmesan, garlic powder, and salt, whisked
For the traditional baked method:
Heat 1/2 inch of olive oil in a non-stick skillet.
Dip the chicken pieces to coat, first in the flour, then in the egg, and finally in the panko mixture. When pieces are breaded, set aside.
Fry the chicken, 3-4 minutes per side. In a 9″x13″ casserole dish, cover the bottom with the marinara sauce and then top with the chicken. Sprinkle 1-2 c. mozzarella over the top. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes in a 350F oven. Serve with pasta.
For the deconstructed method:
Preheat a skillet or griddle to medium-high heat. Dip the chicken pieces to coat, first in the flour, then in the egg, and finally in the panko mixture. When pieces are breaded, set aside.
Add olive oil to the heated pan and place the breaded chicken in it.
Pan-fry the chicken, 5-8 minutes per side, until the chicken is crispy, browned, and cooked through. (Check with an instant thermometer or slice into a piece to check.) Serve with pasta, sauce, and cheese on the side so that everyone can assemble their own.