I will always reserve a special place in my heart for these Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches. Partly because breaded and fried chicken thighs are involved, I’ve learned never to question fried chicken, but also because it was the first thing Julian ever cooked for me, on our third date. This was the only dish he knew how to cook at the time, which I believe he actually called his mom right before and asked her how to make it. You gotta give the man points for trying. And even though it looked like a tornado hit the kitchen, and I was fairly certain the night would end with us at the emergency room waiting for Julian to get stitches (thankfully it didn’t), it’s still one of my all time favorite sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. No joke. And that’s saying something because I love me a good sandwich every now and then, and as we all know there are so many options to choose from, so it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. But how can you pass up breaded chicken topped with marinara and cheese and then sandwiched together between two pieces of crusty garlic-rubbed bread?! You can’t, you just can’t, and even if you did, I’d have serious doubts about our friendship. Then again, I would be able to eat your sandwich…so maybe I should rethink this.
To this day, whenever it’s Julian’s turn to cook dinner, I’ll either get these sandwiches or a grilled steak with brussels sprouts and potatoes. I’m not complaining though because sometimes it’s too much of a hassle for me to fire up the grill, stand in front of hot burning charcoal all night with smoke blowing in my face. Thankfully the man can grill like no one’s business, and actually enjoys doing it. He has since learned how to cook a few more dishes, through the years, like tacos and homemade tortilla chips with guacamole or grilled salmon with rice and roasted asparagus. They’ve been added to the rotation, but honestly even if this sandwich continued to be the only thing he ever cooked for me, I’d be super happy because it’s a masterpiece of a dish. But it’s best not to tell Julian this. We don’t want it getting to his head.
Instead of keeping this recipe all to myself, though, like some selfish animal, I’ve decided I needed to spread the word. I told myself, “Self, everyone needs to try this sandwich. You’d be doing the world a disservice if you didn’t share it.” That happened, but also I figured we could all use a few more quick and easy recipes that can be whipped up in no time. Especially during those week days when we’re all exhausted from work and just want to get home as quickly as possible, make dinner and catch up on those shows we’ve let pile up. Let’s get with the program and make these happen as soon as possible.
Let’s start by making the quick and easy marinara sauce that’s going to be all up on and in and around the sandwiches. This is one of the easiest sauces you can make, so don’t skip this step. In a medium sauce pot, cook the onions and garlic with a bit of oil, salt, pepper and crushed chili flakes.
**Tip: If you don’t have the time to make the sauce from scratch, I get it you have a life, then you can totally just use jarred sauce from the store. I think that’s what Julian used when he first made it.**
Stir in the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste until well combined. Season with a bit more salt and pepper, to taste.
Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the rest of the components are done.
**Tip: The longer the marinara cooks the better the taste. If you have the time to let it simmer for at least half an hour, then you’ll be golden and a monument should be erected in your honor.**
While the sauce cooks and does its thing, let’s turn our attention to the chicken. Dip into beaten eggs first, then into a mixture of plain breadcrumbs, panko bread crumbs and parmesan.
Place the breaded chicken on a wire rack, set over a baking sheet.
**Tip: Allow the chicken to sit for a few minutes before frying. This will give the coating a chance to dry out a bit and actually stick to the chicken.**
**Note: Julian has always made this sandwich with chicken thighs, so that’s what I’m using because I wanted to keep it as close to the original as possible (but also, chicken thighs have so much more flavor), but feel free to use chicken breast instead if that’s what you prefer!**
Fry the chicken, a few pieces at a time, in a skillet with olive oil. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes on the first side, flip over and continue to fry for another minute or two. Since I’m using chicken thighs they’re a bit thicker so I’m going to continue to cook them in the oven for a few minutes to ensure they’re cooked through.
Once the chicken is done, grate some fresh parmesan cheese on top and then set aside. We’re going to reheat them in the oven right before assembling and serving.
Let’s get the bread ready for our sandwiches. I’m using a French loaf that I cut into four equal pieces and then I cut them in half. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake in the oven for about 8 to 10 minutes or until crusty and just beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and then rub with fresh garlic all over.
**Tip: It’s important to rub the garlic while the bread is still warm because it’ll sort of melt the garlic into the bread. That’s the way Julian did it, which I was super impressed when I saw him do it, so now we need to do it exactly like him.**
Let’s finish off our marinara sauce with a handful of fresh basil.
**Tip: Stack the basil leaves and then roll into a log, and slice into thin ribbons. You could also just tear the leaves into the sauce!**
Spoon a bit of the marinara on top of each of the chicken pieces and then sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in the oven until rewarmed and the cheese has melted.
Spoon more of the sauce onto the bread and then carefully transfer the chicken onto the bottom piece. Top with a bit of fresh basil and then place the top piece of bread on top and sandwich together. That was a really complicated sentence for such an easy step. Forgive me.
If you want to switch things up you can swap out the crusty French bread I used for something a bit different. Focaccia or ciabatta would be great options for this sandwich as well. I like the crustiness of this loaf, though. It softens up with the marinara sauce and is the perfect texture with the fried chicken.
The great thing about this sandwich is that it’s awesome for parties, especially because you can either serve it warm or at room temperature. Maybe it’s just me, but I really love love LOVE cold chicken so I have no problem eating this sandwich cold. You don’t have to serve it that way, but it’s a great option. Nothing is worse than throwing a party that you don’t even get to enjoy yourself because you’re too busy slaving away in the kitchen. So all I’m saying is that you can totally just make these a few hours ahead and then serve them at room temperature.
So you can’t really make these sandwiches ahead of time, like days in advance or anything, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier on you. You can make the marinara sauce in advance and just keep it in the fridge, in an airtight container, until ready to use. Just rewarm on the stove. And you could also bread the chicken the night before, cover it and keep in the fridge until ready to fry the next day.
If you’re not feeling the whole sandwich thing here, then use this method to make chicken parmesan, all the way up to where you spoon the marinara on top and melt the cheese, and then instead of placing it on the bread, you can put it on top of spaghetti and call it dinner.
I think we should all be taking a page right out of Julian’s book and get ourselves into the kitchen, right this very moment, to make these sandwiches for dinner tonight. Unless you’re reading this early in the morning, then don’t start making it just yet. But tonight? Tonight, you’ll have one of the best sandwiches ever. I don’t think anyone will complain about it. Enjoy!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into ribbons
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 large eggs, whisked
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 large french baguette, cut into 4 pieces (or 4 rolls)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into strips
- Preheat oven to 350℉.
- In a medium sauce pot, heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until soft and just beginning to caramelize. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and the crushed red chili flakes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil, season with remaining salt and pepper, and set aside.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a shallow baking dish, whisk the eggs. In a separate baking dish, combine the panko, plain bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Prepare the chicken by dipping it first into the eggs and then into the bread crumbs, patting them onto the chicken to ensure an even coating. Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking and sheet and allow to sit for about 5 minutes.
- Heat about 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Frying about one or two pieces of chicken at a time, depending on the size of your skillet, cook the chicken for about 3 to 4 minutes on the first side, or until golden brown and crispy. Flip over and continue cooking for about 2 minutes longer. Place the chicken on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and continue frying the rest. Once all done, place in the oven and continue cooking for about 5 to 8 minutes, to cook through. Remove from oven and grate a bit of parmesan cheese on top of the chicken. Set aside.
- Cut the loaf of bread into four pieces, then split each piece in half. Place cut side up on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Bake for about 5 to 8 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and crusty. Remove from oven and immediately rub the bread with garlic cloves.
- To assemble sandwiches, spoon a few tablespoons of marinara on top of each chicken piece. Top with shredded mozzarella and bake until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes. Spread a bit of marinara onto each bread half and then place the chicken on top. Sprinkle with fresh basil and then sandwich together. Serve immediately, warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!
- yields: 4 sandwiches