Christmas is fast approaching, and it’s time to finalize our holiday menus. Historically, our Christmas feast has featured an impressive beef dish as the main course, like prime rib roast, beef tenderloin, braised beef short ribs or beef Wellington. These are the kind of specialties known as the “big guns” in our home — simple to prepare, large enough to feed a crowd and big on wow-factor.

So, why are we breaking from tradition and serving chicken this year? Because this Sicilian Chicken Parmigiana is the dish that we go to bed thinking about and wake up craving. A signature dish from Tony’s childhood, this chicken parmigiana is like no other chicken I’ve ever tasted. It is savory, succulent and so tender you can’t believe it. Dishes like this one are why the word "mouthwatering" exists.

Styled after the classic Sicilian melanzana (eggplant) alla parmigiana, this is a baked dish consisting of layers of tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and fried chicken cutlets that have been pounded thin and coated in breadcrumbs. Baking the chicken in the tomato sauce ensures that each cutlet is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

To create the chicken cutlets, we use whole boneless, skinless breasts and slice each one lengthwise into three cutlets. Next, to ensure a tender outcome, we use a meat mallet to gently pound each cutlet until it’s about a quarter-inch thick (the scaloppine method).

Three cutlets are sliced from one trimmed chicken breast. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Three cutlets are sliced from one trimmed chicken breast. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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Then, we dredge each cutlet in flour, egg wash and a mixture of seasoned breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. We’re not picky here — our favorite Italian breadcrumbs are the Hornbacher’s store-brand Italian breadcrumbs and we use freshly grated Parmigiano only if we have it on hand, otherwise Kraft grated Parmesan cheese is just fine. Finally, we fry each breaded cutlet until golden brown and cooked through before assembling the dish.

There are several steps you can complete in advance so that all you need to do on the big day is bake and serve. You can make the sauce several weeks in advance (we make a double batch of our Easy Tomato Sauce), or buy your favorite brand from the supermarket.

The chicken can be sliced and pounded into thin cutlets and refrigerated between layers of wax paper for up to two days before frying. And, one day in advance, you can bread and fry the chicken, then assemble the casserole and refrigerate it overnight before baking.

A tenderized cutlet is seen next to a freshly sliced one. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
A tenderized cutlet is seen next to a freshly sliced one. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The casserole is baked for about an hour, until the cheese is fully melted and bubbly, and the chicken is hot through each layer. This recipe is large enough to feed four to six people and can be easily doubled depending on the size of your baking dish.

Before serving, we garnish the chicken with a sprinkling of fresh basil to add a splash of green to this festively colored dish.

Whether you make it for Christmas, New Year’s Eve or a simple Sunday dinner, our moist and tender Sicilian Chicken Parmigiana is sure to bring some comfort, joy and wow-factor to your table. Buon appetito!

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Sicilian Chicken Parmigiana

Sicilian Chicken Parmigiana is a delicious dish suitable for Christmas. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Sicilian Chicken Parmigiana is a delicious dish suitable for Christmas. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Serves: 4 to 6 (makes 12 cutlets)

Ingredients:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (whole, not split)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (more as needed)

3 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (more as needed)

2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated (either fresh or from a can), divided

3 eggs, more as needed

3 tablespoons milk (or 1 tablespoon per egg)

¼ cup canola or vegetable oil (for frying)

Tomato Sauce (about 48 ounces, more if serving with pasta)

2 ¼ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Fresh basil, chopped, to garnish

Directions:

To make the cutlets: On a cutting board, use a sharp knife to slice lengthwise through the breast, creating 3 thin cutlets from each breast. Place a cutlet between two pieces of plastic wrap. Use the flat side of a meat mallet to pound the cutlet, turning once, until ¼-inch thick. Repeat until all cutlets are pounded thin. Continue to next step or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. To refrigerate, layer on a baking sheet.

For the dredging station: Create a station using 3 shallow dishes (like a pie plate or cake pan). Fill 1 with flour, 1 with the eggs and milk (beaten until frothy) and the other with breadcrumbs and 1 cup of Parmesan cheese.

To dredge: Place a cutlet in the flour and coat evenly on both sides, shaking off the excess flour. Next, dip the cutlet in the egg wash on both sides, shaking off any excess. Immediately place the cutlet in the breadcrumb mixture and coat both sides, using your hands to firmly press the breadcrumbs onto the cutlet. Transfer breaded cutlet to a plate and repeat the process until all cutlets are coated.

To fry: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the breaded cutlets over medium-high heat until golden brown; transfer to a paper towel-lined dish and repeat with all cutlets.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use a 9-by-13-inch or large oval casserole dish. Line the bottom with a layer of tomato sauce, coating the entire surface. Add a single layer of the fried cutlets. Sprinkle ½ cup of mozzarella and ¼ cup of Parmesan over the chicken. Repeat, using all remaining cheese on final layer. Bake immediately or cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

To bake: Cover dish with foil and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and fully melted, and the layers are thoroughly hot. Remove from oven and garnish with a sprinkling of fresh basil. Serve and enjoy. Leftovers may be refrigerated for about 3 days.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.