I watched my Italian grandma make chicken parm when I was little, and I dare say I’ve advanced her recipe quite bit. The problem with chicken breast is it’s just too thick for this. Too much meat in proportion to the crust. So I cut it in half — this-a-way. It’s kind of tricky. I don’t always get the two halves evenly thick. But usually somebody wants a smaller piece anyway, so it’s fine. Now, I want to pound these out. You could use a meat mallet or even a heavy glass, but I like these medieval things with the spikes. This will flatten the meat, and tenderize it, and make holes in it to receive my marinade. Yeah, that looks like a car accident, but we’re gonna bread it, so nobody has to know. People like to season the breading when they fry stuff, but I find it much easier to eyeball the amount of salt that I need if I just season the meat. A heavy sprinkling of salt on each side, and pepper. Throw those in a bowl, and then chop up a big heap of garlic, four or five cloves. Just splash a little white wine in the bowl, throw in a bit of the garlic, swish it all around and toss it in the fridge to marinate. The rest of the garlic is for the quick tomato sauce we’re gonna make now, as is this shallot. It’s not that I think shallots taste better than onions. I use shallots because they’re smaller. I almost never need a whole onion, so I end up with halves of onion hanging around in plastic wrap. Shallots are single-serving, and I think they’re easier to chop up nice and fine. Olive oil in the pan. Fry off the shallots and the garlic and also some tomato paste, which is a great cheat for giving intense flavor to a quick sauce, and frying it kinda mellows the flavor, or as Gordon Ramsay would say, “That gets rid of that real, sort of, taint, tart taste that tomato puree has.” I don’t think he knows what “taint” means. Anyway, now’s the time for a good-quality can of crushed tomatoes. And I’ll give it a glug of that white wine because I already have it open. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and this is gonna cook in a half-hour, at most, because I’m cooking it in a pan, not a pot, so there’s more surface area for evaporation. Just remember to stir it often, or it’ll burn. Here come the stages of breading. The first one is denial. Then flour. Then an egg. Beat that egg well if you want it to coat the chicken evenly. Then here’s something the Grandma Ragusea never had: panko. Weird Japanese breadcrumbs made by electrocuting bread dough. That’s true, look it up. You want maybe a half cup per piece of chicken. These are almost too crispy and the big flakes can be kinda jagged so I like to grind them down a bit, just in my hands. Now, grate some cheese onto the panko. Parmesan or pecorino. I use pecorino because Grandma did. And yes, my pile of cheese is gonna be almost as big as the pile of breadcrumbs I’m grating it on. But I do not do that whole layer of melted cheese on top of my chicken parm thing. All of my cheese goes in the breading and gets fried. Fried cheese! Take the chicken out, and just dry it a bit on paper towels. If I don’t do that, the breading ends up gooey. Then the meat goes into the flour, because flour sticks to meat, and then in the egg because egg sticks to flour, and in the breadcrumbs because breadcrumbs stick to egg. Get that chicken really heavily coated in panko and cheese. The saltiness of that pecorino will season the breading, by the way. Oh hey, look, the sauce is done. Look how thick it got in less than a half hour. You want a quick tomato sauce, simmer it in a pan, not a pot. Salt and pepper go in, and I’ll put in some fresh basil right before I eat, so it stays green. Now is the time to put some water on the boil for pasta. Magic! A heavy coating of olive oil goes in the pan, and then lay in the chicken. I want a gentle sizzle. This was too hot. I had to turn it down. That cheese in the breading will burn easily. That’s better. Man, that smells good. Makes the place smell like Grandma’s house. Spaghetti goes in the water at this point. Flip the chicken when it’s nice and golden. You could use a meat thermometer and pull these at 160 Fahrenheit. But one of the many advantages of cooking thinner pieces of chicken is that, I find, by the time I’ve got golden crust on both sides, that meat is done. These took six minutes. Grandma drained them on paper towels. I use a cooling rack. It keeps them crispier. And honestly, if they weren’t done cooking before, they’re gonna be done by the time they sit here for a few minutes encased in this hot-oil-soaked breading. If you wanted to throw some mozzarella on these and melt it under the broiler, now would be the time, but I think these already have plenty of cheese, and the melted mozzarella thing just robs the surface of its crispiness. Speaking of which, another trick for retaining crunch is to not put sauce on the chicken, but to put sauce on the plate, and not the entire plate. Just the outside. There, most of that piece of chicken will stay dry and crispy until you eat it. A little more cheese on that spaghetti, and then you’ve gotta pour yourself a glass of red wine. There, still crunchy even after I putzed with my camera for 10 minutes, and you can just dose out the sauce on a per-bite basis. That white wine marinade just makes the whole thing sweet and bright. Honestly, this is a lot better than Grandma’s, which is no knock on her. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.