Italian and vegetarian friends, I tell you immediately, you could be traumatized by what I am about to tell you. That voluptuous, popular, exquisite Italian recipe that you know as “eggplant parmigiana” has undergone a very heavy reinterpretation in America. Total. Which you will not like. I’m talking about chicken parmesan and the whole concept that comes with it.
If you who are reading this, you have no idea what real eggplant parmigiana is, just know that chicken is not an ingredient included in the recipe.
Like any self-respecting Italian-American recipe, Chicken Parm also has its own story and a own reason.
How eggplant parmigiana became chicken parm
There was a time, in Italy, when things were not going so well: crises, wars, continuous changes in power made social divisions very strong, to the point that a slice of the people did not have much else to eat than what they managed to cultivate with their own hands. At the time, meat was almost a mirage, a bargain for few people, a food to be eaten once a week.
When the migrations from the Old to the New World began (late 19th century, early 20th century), the perspective changed completely. In the Americas spaces were infinitely larger, the availability of some expensive foods was no longer so problematic and living conditions could easily take another turn. A young territory, which had everything to offer and centuries of history to build.
From this, the ambivalent feelings of my ancestors: on the one hand, nostalgia for the country left behind, on the other, enthusiasm for the new possibilities conquered. And it was precisely in this way that many revisited recipes were born which combined the old with the new and which, even today, speak of a deeply rooted Italian-American culture.
In this background, the chicken parmesan was invented, a parmigiana in which the chicken has taken the place of the aubergines. A reinterpretation that, actually, is almost horrifying here in Italy, because it has completely changed the features of a traditional dish whose preparation has been handed down from generation to generation for centuries.
Many Italians, who immigrated to America, made their fortune by running inns and taverns. Over time, the pure Italian food concept has become contaminated; also to make a virtue of necessity. The American table has always combined meat and starches (for example, stew with potatoes), so even chicken parmigiana had to be served with an accompaniment. And what is more Italian and “starchy” than pasta? That is why, very often, this dish is served with a side dish of spaghetti (or fettuccine).
Something that in my country would not even have a reason to exist: in Italy, pasta is the main course of a meal, not an ingredient with which to garnish something else.
So for anyone asking the question:
Do Italians eat chicken parm with pasta on the same plate?
The answer is absolutely no. Chicken Parm is not eaten in Italy, and even if it were eaten it would never, ever be paired with pasta.
Do we know Chicken Parm in Italy?
No, most people do not know this dish. As they say? “Blessed ignorance!”
Chicken Parmigiana is semi-unknown in Italy. Only those who have relatives or friends in the USA know it… but, to overcome the trauma, they prefer to live forgetting about it.
Of course, there are several positive sides:
- it is a perfect recipe for the “enemies” of vegetables (many children adore it) and it can also be replicated with other types of white meat (like turkey);
- it is a rather simple dish to cook;
- it can be prepared in advance and heated last minute before serving.
On the other hand, we must not forget that – just as happens in Italy with aubergines – chicken is fried and then baked with tomato and mozzarella, so we are talking about something very caloric that spares us nothing, from this point of view, compared to the traditional recipe.
Are there Italian dishes similar to chicken parm?
Fried chicken is an absolutely overseas concept. What we call here “Italian frying” is a tray full of battered vegetables and greens. There is also a more protein variant, but with a marine flavour: the “frittura di pesce”, the protagonist above all of the end of the year dinners (Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve).
So no, I cannot say that in my country there are recipes similar to chicken or turkey parmigiana; however, many chefs have created dishes inspired by that type of cuisine.
At this point, you may be wondering if it is possible to order chicken parmigiana at an Italian restaurant: once again I have to answer “no”, because it is a very little-known dish and it is not part of our menus.
My advice is to inform you in advance, so that you can orient yourself on those few places able to satisfy your request, maybe by contacting them in advance. In any case, the country you go to, the culinary traditions you find: why not taste Italian cuisine once you are here?
The same is applied to reversed parts: if you happen to have an Italian guest at your table, make sure he can really appreciate such a proposal. To play it safe, maybe do not prepare a chicken parm as a single dish, but accompany it with other courses: in case of a possible heart attack from “what is this!?” You can always fall back on something else and save the day!