Chicken Pizzaiola is an Italian American classic. It is not a dish that you would find on a culinary research trip to Italy. However, as a chef who worked in a highly acclaimed Italian restaurant in New York for over 25 years, you can imagine that many guests are either Italian American or learned about Italian cuisine here in America.
As a chef, I must respect that food is a culture and cultures evolve. So a few years ago, I began to play with some of the Italian American classics and incorporated the Italian philosophy of cooking as locally and seasonally as possible. This chicken pizzaiola is lighter, more contemporary, and easier to make than the traditional version.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- ¾ cup of freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried oregano (you can also use any combination of these herbs if desired), plus 4 basil leaves for garnish
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cups canned tomato sauce
- 4 slices of low-moisture mozzarella, or ½ cup shredded mozzarella
- Trim your chicken breasts of fat and gristle if necessary. Season with salt and place in a resealable plastic bag or container with the buttermilk, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- When your chicken is marinated, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- In a medium sized bowl, toss together the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, herbs, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt until all is incorporated together.
- Put the drained chicken breasts in the bowl with the seasoned breadcrumbs (one at a time) and coat on both sides.
- Add a drizzle of olive oil to a medium size oven-proof skillet and add the breaded chicken breasts (make sure they’re not touching). Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side so that the coating is crisp and browned.
- Transfer the chicken to the hot oven and cook for another 12-15 minutes, or until it is cooked through. (You may also opt to place the marinated chicken directly onto a baking sheet with parchment paper and simply bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes).
- While the chicken bakes, heat up your tomato sauce.
- When the chicken is just cooked through, top with half of the tomato sauce and sliced mozzarella, then bake again until the cheese is just melted, about 2 minutes.
- When ready to serve, spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly onto the plates. Add the chicken breast to the center of each plate, and top with a fresh basil leaf.
Chef It Up: At home, I use a simple, homemade tomato sauce for this dish. You can also use a tomato and basil emulsion. While your chicken bakes, combine your tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 3-4 basil leaves in a blender, and puree until smooth. You can use this tomato emulsion to create an even lighter, more restaurant-style version of this recipe. Try topping the chicken breasts with a roasted cherry tomato.