Lighter Chicken Parmesan

When I was a teenager chicken parm was one of my go-to dishes at restaurants. Crispy, fried chicken smothered with lots of cheese sitting on a giant pile of pasta – kind of boring, but delicious, and I wasn’t very adventurous when it came to my food back then anyway. It wasn’t exactly a healthy choice, but I was an athlete and my teenage metabolism could handle it :) These days it’s a different story. When a chicken parm craving strikes, we make a healthier version at home instead of running out. This is my current favorite. The chicken is breaded with a combination of toasted panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and then baked rather than fried. It’s still just as crispy and decadent-tasting, but doesn’t leave me with that heavy feeling in my stomach after I eat it.

This is actually the second time I’ve made this particular recipe. The first was back in 2008, when I was just starting to play around in the kitchen, and I remember that it felt like an all-day project to put this meal together. It was significantly faster this time, though probably still on the high end of the amount of time I’d ideally like to spend making dinner on a weeknight. Prepping the tomato sauce in advance or having a second set of hands to assist (Shane was still at the gym so I was on my own) would help, but honestly, I like this dish so much I don’t mind spending a little more time in the kitchen for it.

Lighter Chicken Parmesan
from America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Kitchen

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 8 oz each)
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 large egg whites
1 tablespoon water
2 cups tomato sauce, warmed (store-bought or homemade (see recipe below))
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Place the chicken on a cutting board. Working with one breast at a time, place your hand on top and use a sharp knife to cut the breast in half horizontally, to make two thinner chicken cutlets. (Don’t worry if they’re not perfectly even, mine never are!) Place each cutlet between two sheets of plastic wrap and use a meat mallet or skillet to pound to 1/4-inch thickness.

Preheat oven to 475 F. Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and spray the rack with cooking spray. Set aside.

Add the panko and oil to a 12-inch skillet, and stirring frequently, toast the breadcrumbs until they are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a wide, shallow dish and allow to cool briefly, then add the Parmesan and stir. In a second shallow dish, mix the flour and garlic powder. Finally, add the egg whites and water to a third dish, and beat with a fork until frothy.

Pat the chicken dry then season both sides with salt and pepper. One at a time, dip the cutlets in the flour, then the egg whites and the panko mixture. Press the panko onto the chicken to completely coat. Transfer the cutlets to the wire rack you sprayed earlier.

Spray the tops of the cutlets with cooking spray then bake for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken registers betwen 150 and 160 F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from the oven, and top each piece of chicken with 2 tablespoons each of sauce and mozzarella. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and the chicken is cooked through (160-165 F), about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with the basil before serving.

Serves 6

Quick Tomato Sauce

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

Add the tomatoes and their juice to your food processor and pulse until broken down (you can make it as smooth or chunky as you like your sauce). In a medium saucepan, cook the garlic, tomato paste, oil and red pepper flakes over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until the tomato paste starts to brown. Add the tomatoes and let the sauce cook until slightly thickened and reduced, about 20 minutes. Add the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes about 2 cups