For The Crispiest Chicken Parm, Toast The Panko Before Breading

There are few things more satisfying than biting into the crunchy coating on a perfectly baked chicken parmesan. But what if you want to make it extra crackly and even tastier? Here's the secret: For the crispiest chicken parm that's packed full of flavor, toast the panko before breading.

Although this extra step does add a little more time to the prep work, the results speak for themselves — a golden, shell-like crust with an audibly crackly surface. Plus, the process is as easy as spreading your panko and seasonings out on a baking sheet and placing it in a hot oven until the breadcrumbs are toasty, or tossing them in a hot pan with a glug of oil or cooking spray.

Toasting your panko before breading your chicken has several great benefits. Firstly, it provides the perfect opportunity to add another layer of flavor to your dish. You can incorporate seasonings, like garlic, paprika, chili flakes, or parmesan, to your neutral panko base before toasting to lend the coating a deliciously savory note and fried characteristic. The toasting process also takes the raw edge off the condiments and gives the panko flakes the chance to take on the flavors of the seasonings. Any extras can be stored away for later as a ready-made crispy breadcrumb topping for pasta bakes or salads that require some textural crunch, much like the Italians scatter pangrattato over a plate of pappardelle.

Toasted panko absorbs less moisture

Secondly, toasting the panko prevents your crumbs from absorbing an excessive amount of beaten egg during the breading stage, which helps the crust to stay super crisp when it comes to baking or frying each cutlet. Panko naturally absorbs less moisture than regular breadcrumbs anyway because of its light, flaky, and dried-out texture, but toasting it first means the crumbs absorb just enough egg to cling to the surface of the cutlets without becoming sodden. 

Finally, if you've pounded your chicken cutlets into thin pieces so they cook very quickly, it's better to use panko that's already been crisped up with a prior toast. This way, when your chicken cooks through rapidly, the coating has enough time to heat through and crisp up further at the same rate, resulting in a perfectly juicy protein with an extra crunchy exterior.

Another great tip to maximize the crispy texture of chicken parmesan is to cook your breaded chicken separately from the marinara and combine both elements just before serving. This technique allows the coating to remain crisp because the sauce doesn't soak through the crust and turn it soggy while it cooks. Simply dredge your protein in your pre-toasted panko and bake in the oven until the chicken is cooked, glide over a portion of hot marina and melty cheese, and dig into a dish with an uber-crackly, high-flavored crust.