Hypoallergenic Chicken Parmesan
Time Taken: 30-60 minutes active, another 30 passive.
Allergens: Typically only butter/cheese/dairy
As a main course, depending on the
appetite of the guests and the size of the chicken breasts, the amounts
given will serve 4-8. Leftovers reheat great. It's easy to make; it's
very forgiving of any sort of error. It scales very well; I've made this
dish in a normal-sized kitchen to serve 30. If someone is allergic to
one of the vegetables, consider the deconstructed option at the bottom
or just omit it.
- 4 Boneless skinless chicken breasts (see prep below)
- 2 large/3 medium Brown Onions, halved and sliced
- 2 Red/Orange/Yellow Bell Peppers, sliced into strips,
seeds and ribs removed
- 1 lb. Ordinary Button Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered.
Crimini or other nicer ones are fine, too.
- Olive Oil
- Canola Oil
- 2 tbsp. Unsalted Butter.
- Garlic Powder
- Red sauce (home made or jarred. You'll need about 6 oz/chicken breast.)
- Shredded Mozzarella. 2 lbs is plenty for small recipes.
Either part skim or whole milk is fine. Slices will work,
too, but shredded is much better. (Shredded cheese is available
in most markets. Smart & Final sells it in 5 lb. bags. Or
you can run blocks through a food processor or box grater.)
- Shredded Parmesan (grated in a pinch)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Spaghetti (optional)
- Cream Sherry (optional)
- Prepare the chicken: This can be done ahead. Clean off all extra
fat and tendons. Pound to 1/2" thickness. (If you haven't done much
of that, put the meat on a wooden cutting board, cover with a layer of
plastic wrap, and pound it flat from the middle out to the ends. A rolling pin is
a good tool to do the pounding.) If flattening is difficult, make cutlets
by cutting the very long way into 1/2" slices, typically 2-3 per breast.
Pounding works better. In either case, the tender can be treated separately,
either as a very small piece or to use for something else later, depending
on its size. If you pound them, you almost certainly will want to cut them
in half the short way. They will absorb a great deal of moisture and become
quite thick. That's my preferred approach.
- Prepare (cut/clean) the vegetables: This can be done a day ahead, though the
peppers really ought to wait until the last minute.
- In a large preferably cast iron skillet, heat two tbsp. of olive oil to
shimmering (about 350, medium heat). Grind black pepper onto each side
of the chicken breasts. Sautee flipping once until each side is browned,
about 5 minutes per side. Cook in batches. Set aside, covered. Add a
little more olive oil between each batch, just enough to coat the bottom
of the skillet.
- If you have enough skillets/etc., Steps 3-6 can be done at the same time.
Prepare the onions. In a cast iron skillet, heat 2 tbsp of oil to shimmering
(about 350) and add the cut onions. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook,
stirring once in a while, until onions are soft, about 15 minutes. About
halfway (the onions should have just turned a little soft, not completely so
yet) add about 2-3 oz. of cream sherry and combine, stirring until it is
evaporated (optional). There will be no alcohol left; this is to add
caramelizing sugars. Set aside. If you have to do most of these one at a
time, get the onions going first; they take the longest.
- Melt 2 tbps of unsalted butter in a smaller skillet (or the same one, cleaning
each time). Add mushrooms and coat with the butter. Add granulated garlic.
Amount depends on preferences (can be as little as zero). Mix well. Cook on
medium-low (about 300) until liquid is released, then continue cooking, stirring
once in a while, until it is evaporated and covers the vegetables. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tbsp canola oil until shimmering (about 400, or
medium high). Add bell peppers and cook stirring, until mildly wilted, about
3-5 minutes. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Assemble casserole: Use any of a 9"x13" glass baking dish (holds 4-6),
metal roasting pan, or large foil disposable pan(s), depending on how big a
meal you are making. If you are using glass, lightly butter the bottom and
sides (just to help cleanup). Put a thin layer of red sauce on the bottom
of the pan. Add the onions, mushrooms, and peppers in layers. Add some
red sauce. The vegetable layer should still be pretty firm; this sauce is
just enough to fill up air spaces between the vegetables. Layer the chicken
on top. Add a full layer of red sauce; spread with a wooden spoon so that
nothing but red sauce is visible, but not much more than that. Add a layer
of shredded mozzarella. It should be thick enough that you can barely see
the red sauce and should easily cover all the chicken. If the pan is jammed
full (mine always is), go edge to edge. Add some of shredded parmesan
on top of each breast. Not enough to pile up, but enough for 2/3 coverage or so.
This can be done up to half a day in advance. If so, cover with plastic wrap
and chill. Let return to room temperature before final baking. It can sit out
for at least an hour, no problem.
- Bake uncovered at 350 for half an hour. Cheese should be browned. If not,
run under a broiler at 500F for 2-3 minutes until it is browned to your preference
level. Serve immediately. You probably want the dish on a towel or trivet; it
will be hot. If using noodles, either put vegetables then chicken on top (no
extra sauce should be needed, but ought to be an option for some guests) or on the side.
- Deconstructed version: This is best for large groups. Someone in a group of
25 is going to have problems with one or more of the vegetables. Just assemble
the casserole with no vegetables; reserve them on the side and cook them while
the chicken is in the oven. You can time them all to get done at the same time
if you have enough cooktop space/pans. Serve all the pieces (including the
optional pasta) in separate dishes and let the guests combine them as they wish.
- Sirloin strips: This general recipe works very well for beef, too. If you
have a big chunk of sirloin (no more than 1-1/4" thick), you can substitute
beef for chicken. Cut sirloin into 1/4" thick strips against the grain and
about 2" long. Brown the strips in some hot olive oil for about 2 minutes
in batches. They should just barely start releasing moisture then. Keep the
liquid and add it in when you add the red sauce. Otherwise, make it the same
way. Do not overcook. It's best if you do only 15 minutes in casserole and
then run it through the broiler to get the cheese browned. That will depend
on how well done your guests like their beef. 30 minutes will be medium-well;
15 minutes just a tad rarer than medium, though doneness levels will depend
on a lot of factors; experience will help. You'll need to serve it with
a large spoon. It will be a little wetter than the chicken. Not a problem.
If you have some fresh thyme, add some to the broth (about 6 sprigs per pound
of beef) before going into the casserole. If you add some shredded cheese in
the middle of the beef layer and mix a bit, it'll be a little sturdier; the
casserole will hold together well.
© Jeff Goldsmith, July 21, 2021