12 Tips You Need To Make The Best Chicken Parmesan

Chicken parmesan is the classic dish that almost everyone loves. Easy, filling, and delicious, this fan-favorite is available at nearly every Italian restaurant. It's the perfect meal for a fancy celebration dinner or a cozy night of delicious comfort food.

And while there is no doubt you can get some of the best chicken parm in a restaurant, you can easily create this recipe at home. Homemade chicken parm saves you time and money, but the real value is that you can upgrade your recipe dish to suit your tastes. There are simple, time-saving hacks you can use to ensure everything is nearly restaurant-grade

You add creativity when you make your own sauce, upgrade your oil, or change up the cheese. Put your own signature spin on this recipe to serve up a dish that will have your friends, family, and guests clamoring for the recipe. But don't worry; you can still share one or two of these secrets and keep the best tips to yourself!

Make your own tomato sauce

The key to nearly any delicious Italian meal is the sauce. While store-bought marinara is a quick hack, homemade tomato sauce is the key to a truly outstanding chicken parm recipe. It's easy to make your own. You'll need olive oil, onion, fresh garlic, canned tomatoes, and spices like salt, pepper, and oregano, or you can use an all-purpose Italian seasoning instead. Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil in a deep pot, then add tomato ingredients and seasoning. The most important tip when cooking tomato sauce in a deep pot is to keep stirring it so that the onion and garlic don't stick to the bottom and burn. After that, simmer until the flavor is just right. We recommend frequent tasting!

Chefs debate on the perfect way to create tomato sauce. Some season it with sugar, salt, and bay leaves. Some insist that a can of tomato paste is a must-have addition, and others use whole canned tomatoes. And still others claim you should top it off with olive oil once it's done.

If you're pressed for time, recipe developer Catherine Brookes created this quick tomato sauce recipe that is easy anytime you need to whip it quickly. You can even speed the process up by using jarred minced garlic.

Use organic chicken strips

The better the quality of the chicken, the better the flavor of your fried cutlets. We believe organic chicken breast is the best choice for chicken parm for several reasons. 

Conventional chickens are generally packed together and live indoors in a restricted area for most of their lives. They are given growth hormones and usually eat lower-quality feed, contributing to a less healthy environment for their growth. On the other hand, organic chickens are raised with more access to the outdoors and are fed an organic diet. They are raised without growth hormones or antibiotics. Because they are raised more naturally, organic chickens tend to have a better taste and are healthier.

Unfortunately, organic poultry costs far more than conventional, but you can save money using a reputable organic meat subscription plan. We recommend buying pre-cut tenderloins to save time. However, if you're running behind and need to whip up a quick batch of chicken parm, you can use breaded frozen chicken strips in a pinch.

Use high-quality olive oil for frying

Today, you no longer have to avoid extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for frying. A recent study showed that at high heat, EVOO did not release as many toxic chemicals as other cooking oils, including vegetable oils. This is because EVOO is high in healthy antioxidants called polyphenols, which prevent the oil from breaking down as quickly into these harmful constituents.

Be sure to select a high-quality EVOO not diluted with other oils, such as vegetable oil. This type of oil will cost more, but it will be rich in flavor and antioxidants, which can help support your immune system. We're not suggesting that chicken parm is healthy, but using the best ingredients will make a dish that impresses everyone.

When it comes to olive oil, taste is everything. If you haven't cooked with EVOO before, it might take a little getting used to the strong flavor. However, there are many olive oil options you can select, depending on your budget. These include some excellent certified organic brands, as well as many imported options. But if your budget is tight, Bertolli, Pompeii, and Costco's Kirkland Signature brand are all worthy olive oil choices.

Change up your breadcrumbs.

The best chicken parm recipes use seasoned breadcrumbs. You have several options here, even if you use plain breadcrumbs. The seasoned version will save you a step, but we recommend adding spices to plain breadcrumbs so you can flex your creativity by adding your own signature flavors. We recommend garlic powder, basil, and oregano, and consider adding parsley, rosemary, thyme, or a hint of salt. You can also use red pepper flakes for a little heat or black pepper for a smaller kick. Some cooks add parmesan cheese as well, but we recommend you go lightly so that the dish is not too rich. Another excellent option is to add a flavorful artisanal salt and then one or two spices to that.

If you're looking for a little breadcrumb variety, try panko breadcrumbs. Hailing from Japan, these are larger crumbs made from white bread crusts. Or, change it up by making your own mixture from pretzels, crackers, or your favorite toasted bread. Use a food processor or high-powered blender and a handful of salt to get the desired consistency and flavor for your homemade breadcrumbs.

Finally, bread your cutlets to ensure the breading stays on. The best way to do this is to dry your chicken breasts by patting them down with a paper towel. Before you drop them into your egg bath, dredge them lightly in all-purpose flour. Add them to the batter, then dip into your breadcrumb mixture. A pro tip is to let it cool in the refrigerator for about half an hour before frying. This gives the breading a better chance of sticking through the frying process.

Upgrade your egg batter with buttermilk.

Egg batter is a critical step to ensure that the breading stays on your cutlet. Most cooks add water when mixing up fresh eggs into a thin batter for dipping the chicken. However, using a thicker batter helps the breadcrumbs to stay on. Some cooks use milk; however, buttermilk will add more flavor and richness to your cutlets.

You can also use buttermilk before adding it to the egg batter by letting your raw cutlets soak in it first. This cooking hack is usually reserved for Southern fried chicken. But if you add simple seasonings, like salt and pepper, you can create a nice chicken brine. Let the mixture marinate overnight to get the tastiest results. This will keep your chicken cutlets moist through frying or baking,

Using buttermilk to brine the chicken also helps to highlight the flavor of the cheese you use in your chicken parm, whether or not it's mozzarella. We believe this is a trick worth incorporating into all your fried chicken dishes!

Add butter to your oil for frying.

Adding butter to your oil adds flavor and ensures there is extra crunch to your fried chicken. This suggestion comes from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. "Once you've gotten the color on top, start placing little bits of butter underneath," Ramsay demonstrates in a video tutorial, "That makes the breadcrumbs golden brown."

This chicken parm trick works best when your cutlets are even in thickness. You can accomplish this by trimming and pounding them to be as equal as possible in size. After dredging them in flour, dip them in your egg batter, then in the breadcrumbs. Heat your pan with one tablespoon of oil and fry the chicken for two and a half minutes. Ramsay recommends rapeseed oil, but we still think EVOO is a better choice.

After that, place small pats of butter under the chicken. When you flip the chicken, you only need to cook it for around two or three minutes to get both sides even. To mimic Ramsay's complete chicken parm recipe, add salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and parmesan cheese to your breadcrumb mixture.

Potato starch makes your chicken crunchy.

Soggy chicken will ruin your dish. We've gone through several ways to help maintain that delicious crunch in your chicken, but this hack recommends potato starch to ensure crispy cutlets. Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito, chefs and co-owners of Michelin-starred Don Angie in New York City regularly use potato starch in their restaurant's recipe for chicken parm. Adding potato starch to your breadcrumbs ensures that your cutlets come out both golden and crispy.

Only use a small amount, or you may ruin the taste of your breadcrumb mixture. This simple tip is worth a try since potato starch may be good for you. Research has shown that it may help your body manage insulin sensitivity, which in turn helps reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity. It also feeds the good bacteria in your gut, improving digestion and reducing the risk of bowel and colon inflammation. Potato starch has a few downsides, especially if you're using a small bit in your diet, so we encourage you to try this tip.

Use an air fryer to create a crispy and healthier version.

Giving your dish more flavor and depth often means adding ingredients that are rich and fattening. But what if you want a healthier chicken parm? Or perhaps you'd like to cut down and use less oil. If you have an air fryer, you're in luck.

Air fryer chicken can be just as crunchy and juicy as pan-fried. The trick is to set it high and keep an eye on your chicken. Air fryer chicken parm will take a bit longer than Chef Ramsay's version (at least 12 to 16 minutes), but the advantage is you can cook one pound of cutlets all at once. That would be too tight a squeeze in your frying pan, making it more difficult to get your cutlets perfectly crisp.

To prevent the breaded cutlets from sticking to your air fryer, you should use cooking spray on the bottom. Fortunately, there are many healthy options available, including EVOO, avocado oil, and coconut oil sprays. While oil is still useful, a little spray will be much healthier than cutlets steeped in a pan of oil for frying.

Add other cheeses to spice up your mozzarella topping.

While most chefs agree that mozzarella is the best choice to top chicken parm, there's no rule that says it's the only cheese you can use. You can add other options or can change the cheese altogether.

The key to selecting the best cheese to top this dish is to make sure it melts properly. Hard cheese won't, so only use it to grate over your dish. Parmigian-Reggiano, Parmesan, Romano, or Locatelli are all excellent choices.

Soft provolone is one cheese that melts well with mozzarella and gives a bit of zest to your dish. On the other end of the spectrum, fontina has a milder flavor, making it a good choice to replace mozzarella. However, if you're looking to add a more complex flavor, try gouda or gruyere.

If you still want to use mozzarella, you can try different varieties depending on what kind of flavor you'd like. Options include Mozzarella di Bufala, which comes from buffalo milk and has a strong gamey flavor. This is a good choice if your sauce has chunks of tomato. Perlini is a dryer mozzarella, so use this if you are worried your dish will be too soggy. Stracciatella is a type of burrata cheese that is rich and buttery for a nice, rich cheese topping.

Spaghetti is the most popular pasta to serve with chicken parm.

Spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini are the most commonly served pasta options for chicken parm, but you can try several other varieties. If you want a long pasta with a bit more depth, fettuccine is flat and wide. This pasta is better suited to pick up cream sauces, so if you've added buttermilk, it's a good choice.

If you'd like something lighter, angel hair pasta is the thinnest of all varieties. This choice keeps the focus on the flavor of the dish rather than the pasta. It's very delicate, so watch it carefully when cooking, then serve it on the side with sauce and grated cheese.

Bowties are a great choice to place under your cutlets if you want something other than long-strand pasta. Their sturdy shape allows them to hold the chicken while collecting the sauce in the crannies. And bowties are a fun shape to serve the kids! Add two cups of chicken broth to your tomato sauce while heating it for a neat little twist.

Another robust choice is rigatoni. Its densely packed grooves pick up the flavor of the sauce. This traditional pasta gives your recipe a more Italian flair. Most pasta is served al dente, but rigatoni is pretty forgiving if you cook it a bit longer for a softer noodle.

Skip the pasta altogether to make a lighter meal.

The most obvious substitute to pasta on the side of your chicken parm is a good quality toasted bread to scoop up that homemade sauce. But if you're looking to make this a lighter meal, you have plenty of healthier side dish options.

Rather than skipping noodles altogether, you can use vegetable noodles for a nutritious twist that keeps your dish looking like traditional chicken parm but with a vegetable right on the plate. We recommend zucchini noodles for their mild flavor. Once cooked, they are light and airy, like angel hair pasta.

Another smart side dish is a salad. Since you've worked hard to create a rich, delicious dish, don't go with boring old iceberg lettuce and tomato. Boston lettuce salad is a colorful and flavorful choice that combines butter lettuce, sweet green peas, and radishes. Or up your game with a roasted asparagus salad dressed up with kalamata olives and cherry tomatoes.

A warm side dish works well, too, like garlic green beans or roasted Brussels sprouts. Or go old school with sautéed escarole drenched in olive oil. You can even replace pasta with a healthier carb, such as wild rice pilaf with mushrooms or quinoa with herbs, shallots, and lemon juice.

Meatballs make an interesting twist on your dish.

Typical chicken parm might be a bit boring, no matter how delicious you make it. It's time to shake up your recipe. The first suggestion? Make chicken parm with meatballs! For this dish, you'll use ground chicken instead of chicken cutlets and bake your recipe in a casserole. We recommend using the above-recommended tomato sauce and cheese options to give it extra flavor flair.

Another tasty option is chicken parm baked ziti. This one-dish meal uses shredded chicken; no frying is necessary. Instead, use a crock pot or Instant Pot to create your meal. Top it off with a flavorful breadcrumb mixture.

For some fun recipe twists, you can try chicken parm meatloaf cupcakes made with ground chicken, sauce, and mozzarella in cupcake pans. Chicken parm wraps are a kid-friendly option. You'll need egg roll wrappers for this dish. And finally, drunken chicken parmesan uses vodka sauce instead of tomato sauce for a more grown-up take on this classic dish.