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History of Chicken Parmagiana

an image Some say the humble parma, parmey or Queen of Schnitzel's was sent to us direct from the gods. Others believe it had humble origin's from Italy.

Parmagiana, is claimed by both Campania and Sicily regions of Italy. While "parmigiana" usually means "from Parma" (in Northern Italy), the dish is not part of Parma cuisine. It is based upon melanzane alla parmigiana (alt. parmigiana di melanzane) or aubergine parmigiana (or aubergine Parmesan), a classic Southern Italian dish.

In addition to the Italian versions which are always vegetarian, variations of Parmigiana have been developed across the world, most often in countries where large numbers of Italians immigrated. Examples of dishes developed outside of Italy from the early parmigianas include veal and chicken breast (Chicken Parmigiana) dipped in a mixture of beaten eggs, breaded, shallow-fried and topped with a marinara sauce (red Sicilian tomato sauce) and mozzarella. It is then usually baked until the cheese is bubbly and brown.

Superparma Rating System

  • Size (out of 5) - Of course size matters.
    Contrary to what some may say, Big is good, Huge is great. Note that the size criteria specifically relates to the size of the chicken fillet, and does not reflect the serving size of salad, chips, or the amount of sauce and cheese. Size must represent a balance of surface area and thickness. In terms of thickness, the professor's have been instructed to analyse the fillet in more than one place on the parma as thickness can vary within a fillet. Professor's are also careful to avoid difficulties in the perception of size that can be caused by thick crumbing hiding a thin fillet. We have a vision for the day when pubs list the weight of the chicken parmagiana fillet on the menu, as is often done with steaks, but at this stage, we are relying on the sharp calculated eye of our professor's.
  • Quality of Sauce (out of 4) - This is the basis for the flavour that we all love
    The ideal and traditional sauce for a chicken parma is a genuine Napoli sauce. The professor's believe the perfect sauce, although very difficult to find on the pub scene, should be a nice mildly rich flavoured Napoli, and not too thin in texture. It should be reasonably free of excessive chunky pieces of tomato, tomato skin pieces, and large onion pieces, although these ingredients are obviously a necessary element to some degree to develop a good flavoured Napoli. Balance is the key here. While not all pub chefs may have the capability of producing a high class Napoli, those that attempt to do so will generally be rewarded somewhat in the rating. All this aside, a good sauce is basically about flavour, and whilst this is fairly subjective, the professor's reckon they have it pretty sussed.
  • Quality of Meat (out of 3) - A pivotal measure of a good parma.
    Meat is the substance of the meal, and thus has a large role in determining the overall quality of the meal. As such, it must hold significance in the rating criteria. The difference between a high quality chicken breast (organic, free range) and a low-grade piece of chicken is manifestly discernible. Many places will dish up what we, at the department, like to call your ‘classic factory processed sh1t’, which generally consists of rubbery pulverised chicken with no texture and little flavour. This will accordingly score poorly in this criteria. On the other hand, a schnitzel that includes a nice thick, textured, flavoursome piece of meat that has obviously come straight off a bird is more likely to score higher in this criteria as it should markedly improve the meal.
  • Amounts Cheese and Sauce (out of 2) - For the flavour of the parma to really come out.
    It is important that the parma topping (the napoli sauce and cheese) is presented on top of the chicken in abundance. Sauce and cheese should ideally cover the entire chicken fillet. However, it should be noted that there is a point where there can be too much cheese on a parma, and it is usually the thickness of the cheese layer that can create this. Chefs need to be wary here, as too much cheese can really detract from the flavour of a parma. Basically, balance in this category is the key factor to getting the flavour of the parma spot on.
  • Crumbing, % of Meat to Crumbs (out of 2) - As this ratio can also make a parma a Superparma.
    Firstly, the quality of the crumbing. Crumbing should be crispy and thus should contain a reasonable amount of breadcrumbs, rather than just a layer of fried egg yolk matter with a few crumbs thrown in. Also, a good layer of crumbing should not fall off the chicken breast as you cut through your parma. Ideally, it will stay attached unless the parma is given exceptionally vigorous treatment. Secondly, the thickness of the crumbing or the % of meat to crumbs should be analysed closely. The best crumbing is thin crumbing that is free of excessive amounts of the batter-type matter that can form beneath the crumbs’ outer. When the layer of crumbing is thick, particularly in relation to the thickness of the chicken breast, it detracts from the overall taste of the chicken parma. Many pubs find it necessary to disguise thin breasts of chicken with excessively thick crumbing. This is to the meal’s detriment, and judges will not be deceived on this.
  • Quality & Amount of Side Order (Out of 3) -
    Although the side order is not strictly a part of the parmigiana meal, all pubs generally serve their parma with a side order, consisting chips or fries, and occasionally wedges or scalloped potatoes. The professor's at the Department of Parmology, believe the side order provides an excellent supplement to the chicken parma, and we have decided that for the purposes of our rating system, the side order should form a part of the rating criteria. Given that different types of side orders are presented at different establishments, it is important that each type is judged on its own merits and the individual quality assessed. Chips, which are by far the most common side order, should be served hot and crispy and come in reasonable volume. It seems almost common practice that pubs serve the meal with the parmigiana placed over the top of the side order. Whilst this maximises the amount of food that can be fitted on the plate, it tends to have a negative effect on the chips, causing them to ‘sweat’ underneath the parma and become soggy. This will detract from the meal’s score in this criteria.
  • Quality of Salad (out of 1) - Its there, but is it worth considering?
    Lets be honest, very few of us ever sit down in a pub to order a chicken parmigiana and wonder what sort of salad is going to be presented next to our parma. You just don’t sit there, whilst sipping away on a couple preliminary lagers and nursing a ravenous appetite, bursting with anticipation at the thought of the side salad. It’s a side salad, that’s all it is. It represents nothing more than a fresh healthy taste to compliment the cheesy, pan seared parma and greasy deep fried chips. Basically, the salad served with a parma is merely a refresher, and thus only represent 5 % of a rating. However, a side salad with a good mix of nice fresh produce (not just some lettuce leaves) with a simple dressing (not too much) can compliment the meal nicely.
  • Ham (Out of 1) - At pubs its a bonus!
    Ham is omitted from the majority of parmas served at pubs, and as such is treated as a nice little bonus when included. However when included, provided it is of a reasonable quality, the ham should really augment the flavour of the other parmigiana ingredients and significantly improve the taste of the meal. The interaction of the flavours of a fine chicken schnitzel, a good napoli sauce, some melted cheese and a nice fresh piece of Virginian ham creates a breathtaking flavour that is the embodiment of the chicken parmigiana experience. Therefore, although we do not penalise pubs by including ham as a criterion requirement, chefs that do include it in their parma will be rewarded by receiving one bonus rating point. Only when the quality of ham is exceptionally poor will a pub not receive a full bonus point (half a point will be given in these instances).