The Teesside Chicken Parmo
This is it, the infamous chicken parmo from Middlesbrough!
I stirred up quite the fuss when I made this dish on MasterChef! Neither the guest judges or John Torode and Gregg Wallace saw it coming, and as horrified as they were at the idea of chicken and cheese, they ate their words when they enjoyed it! The guest judge Steven Wallis even cited it as the next big thing, and #ChickenParmo became the number one trending topic on Twitter that day. It certainly wasn't the finest of dishes to bring to MasterChef - completely tactless now I think of it. I'll admit something to you, I hadn't watched a single episode of MasterChef before I took part in the series. If I had, and seen the standard of food typically presented on the show, I probably wouldn't have had the balls to do it! Ignorance is bliss.
I'll be honest with you however, the parmo I made on MasterChef wasn't a true, traditional Parmo. My parmo was breaded with panko breadcrumbs instead of plain breadcrumbs, which does lend a crunchier, more robust breading that doesn't become as soggy underneath the molten toppings. I also served it with a spicy beetroot ketchup, which you won't find in any takeaway in Middlesbrough! You usually eat a parmo with a single side of strong garlic sauce - stinky and gorgeous! My spicy beetroot ketchup adds heat, spice and sweetness which jolts through all the creamy elements in a parmo. And finally, red cabbage coleslaw. I actually always have pickled red cabbage with my parmo and I stick by it. Crunchy and sweet, the red cabbage coleslaw adds dramatic crunch and pickled sharpness, which slashes through all the rich, greasy elements in a parmo. Finally, while my parmo had a good punch of extra mature cheddar cheese on top, a proper parmo is made with cheap, orange-dyed cheddar, which makes it glow bright orange like the SSI Steelworks on Teesside! All these were great refinements on a parmo in my view, but an authentic Teesside parmo, not exactly
Let me tell you about the parmo in the raw. The parmo was 'invented' in Teesside by an Italian navy cook. He was injured off the coast of France in World War 2 and evacuated to England for treatment. Most hospitals in London were bombed during the blitz, so many patients were sent to low-risk, rural hospitals. This gentleman ended up in County Cleveland Hospital, nowadays known as the James Cook Hospital, where he recovered. He settled in Teesside, eventually opening a restaurant called the 'Europa' on Linthorpe Road in Middlesbrough where he served the 'chicken parmesan'. The Europa has since closed down, but has left a legacy of takeaway shops in its wake that have taken the gauntlet, not only in Middlesbrough, but all over the North East of England!
Either way, the parmo has become a status symbol on Teesside. Most people on Teesside probably wouldn't make a parmo at home, but for those who live outside the smoggy kingdom of Teesside, here is my recipe for a traditional Teesside chicken parmo:
TEESSIDE CHICKEN PARMO
FOR THE CHICKEN
- 2 large Chicken Breasts
- 100g Plain Flour
- 2 large Eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Granules
- 1/2 teaspoon Onion Granules
- 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper/Chilli Powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
- 120g Breadcrumbs (or Panko)
- 250g block of Beef Dripping, or 250ml Vegetable Oil
FOR BÉCHAMEL AND CHEESE TOPPING
- 400ml of Whole-Fat Milk
- 40g Plain Flour
- 40g Unsalted Butter
- 1 teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1 teaspoon Black Pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
- 150g mature cheddar cheese
- It's best to prepare the béchamel sauce first. Take a saucepan and place onto a medium heat. Add the 40g of butter and allow to melt and begin to sizzle.
- Once sizzling, add in 40g of plain flour and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a thick, gummy paste. Keep the heat on medium, and keep stirring the paste around the pan for about a minute, to toast the raw flavour out of the flour.
- Measure out 400ml of whole-fat milk in a jug. Gently pour splashes of milk into the flour-butter paste, stirring the whole time. At first it will seize up, but it will gradually loosen up and become creamier with each addition of milk.
- Once all of the milk is added, it will be quite runny. Maintain a medium heat, and gently stir with a wood spoon or a whisk - making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan - until it thickens to a white sauce with a consistency off thick yoghurt, then turn off the heat Add a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and leave the pan to sit and cool.
- Preheat your oven's grill to high heat. Also, heat a frying pan on medium heat and add the beef dripping or vegetable oil (or if using a deep fat fryer, preheat to 180C) and allow to melt.
- Place the chicken breasts one at a time into a sandwich bag or simply sandwich between two layers of cling film. Take a rolling pin and hit the chicken breasts until they flatten and become larger in area, yet approximately 1cm thick.
- Prepare 3 wide bowls or dishes for breading the chicken. To Dish 1, add 100g plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon onion granules, 1/2 teaspoon garlic granules and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne/chilli powder. To Dish 2, add 2 eggs and lightly whisk. To Dish 3, add the breadcrumbs.
- Take each flattened chicken breast and coat in flour (Dish 1), then coat in beaten egg (Dish 2) and then coat in breadcrumbs (Dish 3). Really press onto the chicken cutlets when they're in the breadcrumbs to pack the breadcrumbs onto the chicken. Leave each piece of breaded chicken on a strip of kitchen foil until read to cook.
- When the beef dripping/oil is hot you are born to fry (you can use a thermometer to get it to 180C if cooking on the hob, or just heat the oil until it just begins to smoke, then reduce the heat slightly and it's ready). Place the breaded chicken into the frying pan and fry for 3 minutes per side. If using a deep fat fryer, deep fry for 4 minutes in total. When cooked, remove the chicken and place onto foil-lined baking tray.
- Take the béchamel sauce from earlier and pour over the fried chicken pieces, trying not to drown the chicken or dribble it down all of the sides. Grate over 150g of mature cheddar cheese and place the whole thing under a high-heated grill. Leave for 5-10 minutes until the cheese is molten and slightly coloured.