Chicken Parm for Almost Anyone

Italian food is tough for people with wheat and dairy allergies. Think about it: Unless you eat Tuscan cuisine (meat, canellini beans, kale, etc.), most of the options include pastas, breads, and cheeses.

I’m not Italian, but I grew up in New Jersey, which–dare I say–practically makes me Italian by osmosis. And I’ve had my share of Chicken Parm, as we call it (Chicken Parmigiana), either on a sandwich or with pasta for dinner.

Because Bill can’t have wheat pasta, wheat flour, or cow dairy products, this dish is an especially challenging one. Still, I’m determined to make it work with a few adaptations that I think result in a delicious meal any Jersey girl would be happy to eat. It’s really not “Chicken Parm” by the time I get done with it. Let’s call it Chicken Pecorino instead.

Yesterday, I mentioned finding happy chicken breast halves at Montello Meat Market in Holland, Michigan, where I live. You should see the size of these things.

These aren’t your typical industrialized chicken breasts. But they’re still on the scary side of large. The size factor has a lot to do with the breeds of chickens available to us in the 21st century. Everything has been bred and crossbred to the point where most of our food is bigger and better, and you simply can’t get an old-fashioned chicken like our grandparents ate. (In fact, Bill just told me today that he read in Harper’s magazine that today’s U.S. farm-raised turkeys weigh, on average, 72% more than they did in 1960!)

Anyway, here’s the recipe I created to accommodate Bill’s allergies. If you don’t have a dairy allergy, go ahead and use Parmesan cheese, which is made from cow’s milk. (I still think Pecorino is equally as flavorful.) And if you don’t have a wheat allergy, you can use wheat flour for dredging and serve the chicken with a semolina pasta.

Chicken Pecorino

2 chicken breast halves (about 1 pound total)

1 egg, beaten with a splash of water

1/4 cup brown rice flour for dredging

Salt and pepper to taste

2-3 T. olive oil for sauteing

1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese (or more to taste)

1/2 25-oz. jar Muir Glen organic tomato basil pasta sauce

Splash of full-bodied red wine (optional)

1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced in half (optional)

There are several ways to go about this recipe, and I’ll point out the optional steps along the way.

First, I always flatten chicken breasts between wax paper with a meat tenderizer, but you don’t have to follow this step.

 I couldn’t believe how much area the chicken breasts expanded to when I pounded them. One is as big as my hand!

Next, I dip them in a mixture of 1 beaten egg and a splash of water. (If you want to make true Chicken Parm, dredge them in flour–seasoned with salt and pepper–first, then dip them in the egg mixture, followed by a mixture of breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. For the wheat-free, dairy-free version, you have to omit the breadcrumbs.)

Then dredge them in a mixture of brown rice flour, salt and pepper.

Next, heat olive oil in a skillet and saute the garlic until golden. Remove from pan. (This is also optional if you have a flavorful sauce.) Keep skillet on medium-high heat and add chicken breasts, browning until golden, about 2 minutes per side.

Here’s the chicken breast half, browned on both sides.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat up half a jar of pasta sauce with that splash of red wine (also optional).

Drizzle some olive oil in a baking dish and then add a large ladle-full of the pasta sauce. This prevents the chicken from sticking to the dish.

When the chicken is browned on both sides, lay the breast halves in the dish. Put half of the grated Pecorino cheese on the chicken.

Spoon another ladle-full of sauce on top of the chicken and add the rest of the cheese.

Cover with foil and bake ten minutes. Remove foil and bake another 5 minutes.

Pecorino cheese does not melt like mozzarella does so don’t expect it to be gooey, but it has a lot of flavor. Another option would be to use a softer sheep’s cheese, such as Bulgarian cheese, on top of the chicken, and to mix the Pecorino in with the flour when the chicken is dredged for extra flavor.

Still, I agree with Bill that it’s one tasty meal. The bonus? Less cheese, so less fat. (Don’t quote me on that because I’m not a nutritionist so I haven’t measured every component of this dish, but my guess is this dish probably has fewer calories than a traditional Chicken Parm, such as you would order at my favorite Jersey pizza joint, Oakland Pizza.)


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