Exploring the Origins and Legacy of Chicken Parmigiana

When it comes to classic Italian dishes, chicken parmigiana is up there with staples like lasagna and spaghetti. The combination of thinly fried chicken with red sauce and cheese is enough to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters, which is why chicken parm is a mainstay of Italian restaurants everywhere. But how did this dish get started, and how can operators take full advantage of its deliciousness? Let’s dive into the world of Italian cuisine and find out. 

The Birth of a Classic: Uncovering the Story

Since this dish is so universally loved and widely available, it’s easy to assume that it’s an old recipe that has delighted diners for centuries. However, chicken parmigiana is a relatively new invention. It didn’t start to dominate the U.S. around the 1950s, but that popularity is as widespread as ever today. 

The origins of chicken parmigiana do go back to old Italy, but people made it with eggplant, not chicken. The simple reason for this change is that chicken was too expensive for most households. Eggplant, though, could be grown in the backyard. This vegetarian dish was called mellanzane alla parmigiana, primarily made in Southern Italy. 

However, once Italian immigrants came to America, they discovered that meats were cheaper and more widely available. This is why many dishes today feature options like meatballs. Immigrants decided to swap eggplant for chicken, and a classic was born. Once it started appearing in recipe books and Italian restaurants, chicken parmigiana became a fan favorite worldwide. 

What’s the difference between Chicken Parmesan and Chicken Parmigiana?

If one were to go to different Italian restaurants here in the United States, some would sell a chicken parmesan dish, while others may call it chicken parmigiana. However, if one were to order both menu items, they would be delighted to see the same thing come out at both locations. 

While it’s easy to assume that “parmigiana” is just an Italian way of saying parmesan, it technically means “someone or something from the city of Parma.” Parma is where we get parmesan cheese, and dishes done in the Parma style have the name attached. 

So, even though chicken parmesan doesn’t heavily feature parmesan cheese (instead using mozzarella), the meat or eggplant is prepared in the Parma style, hence the name. 

Chicken Parmigiana and the Art of Pasta Pairings

If you know anything about Italian cooking, you know that pasta is a mainstay. And if you know anything about Italian pasta, you know there’s a shape and style that should be paired with just about every sauce or dish. Options like penne, ravioli, spaghetti, and fettuccini all have recognizable shapes and features, and those attributes are ideal for delivering certain flavors.

Although dozens of varieties are available, chicken parmigiana works best when paired with a noodle-shaped pasta like spaghetti. However, individuals and restaurants can experiment with different pasta shapes that enhance the dining experience. 

Crispy Delights: Discover the Magic of Pitco Fryers

While pasta is a big part of chicken parmigiana, the show’s star is the chicken (or eggplant if you prefer), which is breaded and fried. Since the main ingredient is covered in sauce and cheese, it’s important to utilize a frying process that retains the crispy textures so desirable in the perfect chicken parm.

Simply put, the type of fryer used in cooking parm can make a huge difference. Depending on the volume being cooked or even providing the ability to divide gluten-free options from standard flour, selecting the right fryer is an important choice, almost as important as the brand of tomatoes used for the sauce. To help, Pitco offers a product selector tool so operators can choose the best fryer for making chicken parmigiana (among other dishes). While fried food isn’t a huge part of Italian cuisine, the meals requiring frying need high-quality equipment, lest the customer leave with a bad taste. 

Discover if you’re using the right fryer to make that perfect chicken parmigiana:

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Topics: Foods & Trends, History