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haresfur

In search of the perfect Parma

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Chicken parma could be the Australian national dish - available at pretty much every Hotel bar and of widely varying quality. One of the travel shows makes a point of grading the parma in each town they visit (Bendigo's Shamrock Hotel rated highly and I agree). Comfort food, and I decided to try my hand, not that I'm a great cook but I'm having fun. So here is where I'm at.

Comments and suggestions are welcome and feel free to play along & post your parma.

First starting with some free range chicken breasts from Costco.

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Slick down the middle to make a nice relatively flat heart shape:

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Cover top and bottom with plastic wrap and pound flatter with the bottom of a fry pan. EMP saw a talk show where Lady Gaga did a cooking demo using this method so in our house it is called, "going all Gaga on its ass."

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Put in zip lock bags with herb sprigs and some olive oil. I usually use sage but I had a lot of oregano so I used both. French tarragon is nice for other dishes but doesn't suit me here.

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Into the sous vide at 58 C for at least 30 minutes or until you are ready. You could probably use a temperature anywhere down to 55 C if you want but 58 seems good so far.

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Now, the photos get sparse but here are some more ingredients. I confess to cheating on the tomato sauce and using a jar of organic sauce from Aldi suplemented with a can of crushed tomatoes, some more fresh oregano, and a bit of Shiraz made by a coworker.

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Make bread crumbs. I really like this blender. Even soft bread feeds through the blades well.

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Take the chicken out of the sous vide and dry with paper towel then bread. This is a step where I've had some trouble - flour with salt and pepper, beaten egg, then bread crumbs to coat. Getting the egg and bread to stick has been a problem. This time I tried 'gravy flour' and that seemed to help some as did making sure the chicken was dried off thoroughly.

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Into the fry pan at as hot a temperature as my poor gas range can get to for about a minute per side until crisp and golden. Hot tomato sauce on top, then grated mozzarella, then cured ham product of your choice. Under the broiler until the cheese is melted and just turning brown.

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Garnish with fried sage leaves and, what the heck fried oregano. Did I mention I have a lot of oregano? Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did making and eating it!

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Edited by haresfur (log)
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Chicken parma could be the Australian national dish - available at pretty much every Hotel bar and of widely varying quality.

Oh I totally agree. I love a good chicken parma and with our lack of a national dish it's much more deserving than a silly pie dropped in a bowl of soup. Although I'd suggest that chicken parmas are slightly more prevalent in the southern states.

I make them a lot and it's a good way of using up leftover pasta sauce. I don't worry too much about the ham as I don't think it adds much overall, but it is useful to stop the sauce from making the chicken soggy. Half the point of crumbing and frying the chicken is to add texture, and if you dump the tomato sauce straight on the chicken it tends to go soggy. So if nothing else, a slice of ham can prevent that and help keep the chicken crispy...

I don't have a favourite cheese, but while you want a cheese with flavour I always like to add a bit of mozzarella too to get some stretch. I generally use a mix of parmesan (or grana padano) and mozzarella simply because they're the two cheeses we always have in the fridge. But I wouldn't say no to gruyere or jarlsberg, which would also go well.

And I always add a smear of basil pesto on the top as well - that's the one variation I always make. Yum!

ChickenParma.jpg

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Looks lovely! But why the SV step? A pounded filet ought to cook in the time it takes the crust to brown.

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Also, the olive oil can't flavor the meat in the SV step, the molecule is too large. So, that may also be a waste of time/money/ingredient. Here's Nathan Myhrvold on discovering that adding fat doesn't add flavor to SV meats.

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Chicken parma could be the Australian national dish - available at pretty much every Hotel bar and of widely varying quality.

Oh I totally agree. I love a good chicken parma and with our lack of a national dish it's much more deserving than a silly pie dropped in a bowl of soup. Although I'd suggest that chicken parmas are slightly more prevalent in the southern states.

I make them a lot and it's a good way of using up leftover pasta sauce. I don't worry too much about the ham as I don't think it adds much overall, but it is useful to stop the sauce from making the chicken soggy. Half the point of crumbing and frying the chicken is to add texture, and if you dump the tomato sauce straight on the chicken it tends to go soggy. So if nothing else, a slice of ham can prevent that and help keep the chicken crispy...

I don't have a favourite cheese, but while you want a cheese with flavour I always like to add a bit of mozzarella too to get some stretch. I generally use a mix of parmesan (or grana padano) and mozzarella simply because they're the two cheeses we always have in the fridge. But I wouldn't say no to gruyere or jarlsberg, which would also go well.

And I always add a smear of basil pesto on the top as well - that's the one variation I always make. Yum!

Looks great. I'll have to try mixing cheeses. The pesto looks interesting and worth a try next summer when I have some basil.

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Looks lovely! But why the SV step? A pounded filet ought to cook in the time it takes the crust to brown.

It seems to me that the SV gives me a less done chicken and a softer texture. I suppose it depends on how thin you pound it. Next time I'll do a side-by-side comparison.

Also, the olive oil can't flavor the meat in the SV step, the molecule is too large. So, that may also be a waste of time/money/ingredient. Here's Nathan Myhrvold on discovering that adding fat doesn't add flavor to SV meats.

The oil is mainly to help get the air out of the bag with water displacement. I think it might help the herbs flavour the meat, too. Thanks, another thing to research.

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Oh and the other thing the SV step does is to take a level skill out of crisping up the breading. I know the chicken is done so I don't need to worry about that.

Most butchers here sell pre-breaded schnitzel but I think you miss something without the egg and the sage in the SV.

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I was in one of those 'can't be fucked' moods tonight but didn't feel like falling into the trap of any of the local takeaway offerings. So, stepping back from the goal of the perfect Parma, here's my 'can't be fucked' version of the recipe.

  1. Open a bottle of wine. If Australian-made Malbec is the first thing you find when you blindly grope into the cupboard then, well, it's a Malbec night. Wine matching requires effort.
  2. Take a swig of wine.
  3. Take two chicken breasts (you want Parma for lunch tomorrow, right?).
  4. Take a swig of wine.
  5. Place in some chamber vac bags you stupidly purchased (i.e. won't work with your cheap strip sealer) because they're thick and large. Place on counter top. Imagine the face of someone you hate. Take a thick-bottomed pot and give the breasts a few good whacks. Thin but not too thin.
  6. Wine.
  7. Dust the chicken breasts with a mixture of potato starch, salt, pepper, chipotle powder and garlic powder. Set aside.
  8. Wine.
  9. Take the pot and tip into it some diced serrano (protip: if you don't want to wash a knife and a chopping board you can do this well-enough with kitchen scissors) into it. Render out some of the fat on low heat then pour in some store-bought pasta sauce (you could use plain old sugo but, hey, Barilla Napolitano has non-descript chunky bits). Simmer for a few minutes to take the harsh edge off the sauce. If this was a weekend you could go down that road yourself by loading up some sugo w/ a sofrito, obviously.
  10. Wine.
  11. Sear the chicken breasts. Tip sauce onto them. Sprinkle some shredded Parmesan on top. Throw into the oven for as long as it takes the garlic bread to warm through.
  12. Wine.
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I agree there is no need to SV. If butterflied, jaccarded, and pounded thin it only takes less then 4 min in the deep fryer and is as tender as can be. I usually dust in flour, dip in a flour/milk batter, and then hand pressed into panko bread crumbs. You can add whatever spices you want into the batter so the flavor comes from inside and the panko is just the crust. Top with marinara and shredded mozzarella and throw under the broiler for a minute untill cheese is bubbly. Place ontop a bed of pasta.

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Oh and the other thing the SV step does is to take a level skill out of crisping up the breading.

Look, I admire your search for the perfect chicken parma but I think there's something decidedly un-Australian about making one that actually tastes like chicken. I love it when you can find a dodgy old pub where everything that comes out of the deep-fryer tastes exactly the same, no matter if it's beef, chicken, seafood or whatever. I like pubs where the question 'how often do you change your oil' is met with a blank stare. There's a unique flavour to deep-fried pub food that is fundamental to an 'authentic' chicken parma.

I have no doubt your chicken parma is delicious - and next time I make them I'll try adding sage, that sounds good - but to suggest there's skill involved in frying the chicken for an Aussie chicken parma is like suggesting there's a level of skill involved in getting drunk ;-)

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Haven't tried this yet, but I never thought of putting any choice of cured ham product on it. A little different take on a Cordon Bleu plus tomatoey sauce. Interesting.

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Here's Frank Camorra's take on a great parma.

I've been playing around with SV vs no SV and I think my conclusion is that it depends what you are after. Pounding thin and no SV gives a texture with more bite that isn't bad. I find that even pounded flat breasts bounce back some in the SV step and the end product is a bit thicker but still softer and moister. I like the way I can get herb flavour into the chicken with the SV.

But overall it is basically a style difference and I can't say one way is clearly superior (yet). Obviously skipping the SV step is easier.

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I saw that recipe today. I'm considering trying it tomorrow, altho' it's not too different to how I normally make a Parma.

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The results from Parmageddon are in.  

 

2 overseas guests who had never had a parma before.  My cousin was skeptical about red sauce ruining the crispy crust so it was a perfect chance to try ChrisZ' method of putting the ham under the sauce.  So we did variations 1) SV at 58.5 C with sage in the bag and Serrano under the sauce 2) same but no SV 3) SV with slices of Serrano on top of the sauce and cheese - kind of curled up so it would crisp some 4) same but no SV and no sage.

 

Cheese was a mix of Jarlesberg and Colby (no parmisan because I got lazy)

 

One of the SV had oil in the bag and the other did not but I think it didn't make too much difference.

 

All were good but the unanimous result was that we preferred the Sous Vide with the Serrano on top of the cheese.  The Serrano was really better than the prosciutto I used previously IMO.  Lovely stuff.  Although the sauce does seep into the breading some, the underneath side remains crispy.  The SV variation is moist and that contrasts with the breadding (Also easier to cook IMO, especially doing multiples since you can just whack it on highest heat until crisp rather than figuring out when the meat is cooked).   Your taste may vary.

 

I think I'm very close to what I'm after.  I need to figure out the best type of bread and texture for the crumbs - I think this was too coarse but I liked the seedy whole meal.  The crumbs were very dry and that helped them stick.

 

I also need to work on fried sage for garnish I think microwave is going to work if I can get the right amount of oil on the leaves.

 

ETA: Oh judging from the pictures I have used Serrano previously.  Maybe this was just a better variety.  Whatever, I liked it.


Edited by haresfur (log)
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Have you considered a blend of 'normal' crumbs and panko? Or, God, those Corn Flakes-brand crumbs? 

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Plus or minus some steps I made this one tonight. The only significant plus/minus was that I didn't pound the living shit out of the chicken breasts or slice them as Camorra suggests. Instead I gave them a light thumping to make them of even thickness and used them like that. I thought it worked fine. I only used 180g bocconcini instead of the rather obscene 400g Camorra falls for! One of my problems with many parmas is that there is far too much sauce and cheese. This was the first one I'd made in a while without high end ham (i.e. no serrano or prosciutto). I think the thick-cut leg ham--admittedly a decent one like is called for in the recipe--made for a superior end result. I also added a couple of slices of pickled jalapenos to each parma because they're not ever a bad idea.

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One of my problems with many parmas is that there is far too much sauce and cheese.

Yes, totally agree. It's not like tomato sauce is subtle, especially the commercial pizza sauce you sometimes get on a dodgy pub parma.

It's interesting to read through this thread and see most of the focus on the chicken. I've given a lot of thought to chicken parma's but more about what the final flavour mix should be. There are four big items to blend - chicken, tomato, cheese and ham. As I said above, I usually don't worry about the ham - mainly because I'm not really sure where it fits in. Ham and chicken isn't something I'm used to. There are so many different hams that could be used but I'm not really sure what effect I'm going for, so I don't try.

I like adding basil because I understand that combination - tomato, basil and mozzarella make sense to me. In some ways I see chicken parma as chicken with sauce that's been stacked up.

I make it so often that I've tried a few variations, but not much. I have tried using proscuitto a few times but didn't really notice it. It was lost under the tomato sauce - my fault for begin heavy handed with the sauce. I figured it wasn't worth the cost.

I've tried a few different cheese and most recently I really like Jarlesburg. I imagine that Gruyere & Emmental would be similar.

I sometimes splurge on a buffalo mozzarella for caprese salads and I imagine that it would make a wonderful parma, although I'd only add it at the last minute so it didn't melt completely.

Would love to hear your thoughts about where you think the ham fits into the overall combination. The tip about frying the chicken in aged salty pork fat could bring the magic I've been missing!

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If you're ordering a Parma at an Australian pub it'll be the kind of ham that comes in a very large pink brick wrapped all in plastic and stamped with the words MANUFACTURED MEAT. I mean, an eggplant parma contains no ham at all. I think Parma refers to the cheese. Even though most pubs and recipes do not use Parmesan cheese.

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I think Parma refers to the cheese. Even though most pubs and recipes do not use Parmesan cheese.

 

Chicken Parma is an Australian shortened version of Chicken Parmigiana which means "Chicken in the style of Parma", a region of Italy that produces both Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  While all 3 are a products of the same region, the primary cheese used on Chicken Parma is usually mozzarella or some other kind of melting cheese (with Parmigiano as a secondary cheese) and ham seems to be entirely an Australian innovation.

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Too, isn't the default 'Parma' in Italy the eggplant version? A layered dish of eggplant and cheese with a tomato-based sauce. 

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I like small bits of salty ham flavour-bombs to accent the chicken, not to overwhelm it rather than massive amounts of ham.  Bonus points for a bit of crunch in the meat to compliment the crunch in the breading.  But I'm an FOB immigrant so don't take my word as gospel.

 

Getting the right amount of sauce is the next thing I'll work on, but I'm not sure it is possible to have too much cheese.  The cheese needs to be melted and browning a bit IMO. 

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Oh, I think you can have too much cheese. A Parma is chicken with cheese rather than the other way round.

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Is it supposed to be Parma Ham or Serrano Ham or any Ham?

 

As Chris said, I think pretty much anything goes.  I wouldn't be surprised if some places use short-cut bacon.

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