Vitello parmigiana, veal parmigiana, or veal Parmesan? Take your pick as to which wording you want to use to list this classic dish on your menu since all of them will serve your customers well — as long as you make it great. You have to admit, though, that Vitello Parmigiana has a certain ring to it.
The idea behind any member of the parmigiana family –– veal, chicken, eggplant –– has to do with the goodness of the ingredients essential to make the dish what it is. It starts, of course, with the main ingredient (the veal) followed by a good sauce and a couple of cheeses, namely mozzarella and Parmesan. Are there variations on this theme to be considered? Yes, quite emphatically, there are. Those variations and subtle changes are what help to intensify the popularity of Italian food overall.
For example, choosing to bread the veal or not. And what kind of breading? Fresh bread crumbs? Packaged bread crumbs? Bread crumbs that have been jazzed up with herbs? Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)?
Choosing a certain sauce (as long as it’s a red sauce) then comes into play. A simple sauce of ground tomatoes? A seasoned pizza sauce? A spicy sauce?
The possibility of blending a few cheeses beyond the usual mozzarella and Parmesan? By its very name –– Parmesan or Parmigiano –– the essence of the dish calls for that cheese to be used. However, there is nothing wrong with blending, say, Parmesan and Romano, which would give the dish an extra kick of flavor.
Also, I find there is nothing unusual about blending mozzarella and provolone to add a certain zest to the dish. When it comes to the cheeses, however, I find all to often that many restaurants use too much cheese, which in effect blankets the veal to the point where the veal does not stand out the way it should. So use restraint when it comes to laying on the cheeses; balance is the key to goodness of this dish. More is not better. Too much sauce and too much cheese results in a soupy mess that is hardly representative of a well made Vitello Parmigiana.
Try this basic recipe on for size, and then I will add a few more ideas and pointers for you to ponder –– pointers that will also serve you well, for your chicken and eggplant Parmigiana, should you choose to add those to your menu (or improve what you already have).
Yield: 6 servings (Scale up in direct proportion)
6 boneless veal cutlets, each about 6 ounces
3 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
4 cups bread crumbs (I use Panko)
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup (or more) all-purpose flour
11/2 cups olive oil
2 cups marinara or pizza sauce
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 ounces shredded mozzarella
One by one, put the cutlets between sheets of foil or parchment paper and pound with a meat pounder (or rolling pin) until each is about 1/4-inch thick. Set aside.
In a large shallow bowl, beat the eggs with the milk. In a separate shallow dish, mix the breadcrumbs with the Romano cheese and the chopped parsley.
Coat each piece of veal with flour on both sides, shaking off the excess. Now dip the cutlet in the egg mixture, letting the excess drip off back into the dish. Next press the veal into the breadcrumb mixture, pressing down, to set the crumbs into the veal on both sides. Set aside or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
Using a medium-size skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (see tip below), add the veal cutlets, one or two at a time, and fry for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, turning once, until brown and crisp. Set the cutlets on paper towels to drain.
For each serving, place a cutlet in an individual baking/serving dish. Portion some of the sauce over and around the veal. Sprinkle on a portion of the grated Parmesan, followed by 2 ounces of the mozzarella (can be made up to this point and held).
Bake in the oven or set the dish under the broiler until the cheese is melted and speckled brown.
Cook’s Notes: To make sure the oil is hot, cut a small piece off one end of the cutlet (after the bread crumb step in the recipe) and drop it in the oil to determine if the oil is hot enough. The test piece should brown gently without burning. Or, you can deep-fry the cutlets in the fryer, with the oil set at around 350 F.
When it comes to breadcrumbs, I like to use panko because it is made from bread without crusts, and that allows for a crispier, lighter texture than regular breadcrumbs.
To make your own breadcrumbs, simply trim the crusts off day-old bread. Cut the bread into chunks and process in a food processor until the crumbs are coarse. Spread the crumbs on a baking sheet and run through the oven for a few minutes until the crumbs get light and toasty-brown. At this point you can flavor the crumbs with herbs –– dried oregano, basil–– if you choose.
Also, keep in mind that the process for doing chicken Parmigiana is basically the same as for veal. Pound boneless chicken breast to an even thickness (to insure even cooking), then proceed the same as with the veal.
On the other hand, eggplant Parmigiana, that other delicious member of the Parmigiana family, involves an entirely different process, especially as it pertains to the cooking of the eggplant and the breading process, so I will cover all that another time.