I learned to cook from John Grisanti. John opened the Original Grisanti’s Restaurant on Airways Boulevard in 1962. It was a Memphis landmark for locals and celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Stan Musial and Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.
Mr. Grisanti was loved for his warmly flamboyant way of greeting guests. He was also an internationally known oenophile, and was an avid fundraiser for St. Jude’s. In 1982, he bought and donated a Chateau Lafite 1864 jeroboam, and standard bottle of 1822 Lafite, then promptly donated them for a St. Jude’s charity dinner.
Often, when taking customers on tours of his cellar, Grisanti was known to ask for their birth date, and then pull an expensive wine of that year off the shelf as an impromptu gift. He treated my father’s 40th birthday party to the same tradition. I was 22 and fresh out of Ole Miss. After he decanted the wine, Mr. Gristanti pulled me aside and said, “One of your dad’s friends wants me to put a cream pie in his face. Your dad is a pretty big guy. Do you think its okay?”
I said, “I will be if you do it.”
Chicken Parmesan is one of the first things John taught me to make. This isn’t exactly his recipe. This version is simplified to make it practical to make at a moment’s notice. My sons pronounce it the best ever – and you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting an Italian eatery here in Jersey. I’m sure Mr. Grisanti would approve.
Ingredients for two teenagers or four regular people.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes – buy a brand that has been de-seeded
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Splash of wine or shot vodka
2 chicken breasts butterflied and pounded thin
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup corn starch
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces mozzarella cheese shredded
Now we begin cooking:
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Place corn starch in a plastic bag.
- Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl.
- Using a bread or cake pan, combine and mix thoroughly the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.
Butterfly the Breasts
- Butterfly the chicken breasts by pressing down on the breast with the flat of your hand. With a very sharp knife, slice it in half starting from the thickest part.
- Open the breast up and lay flat. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Pound chicken breast with the smooth side of a mallet. (Illustration) to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
Coat the Chicken
- Place the chicken in the bag of cornstarch and toss to coat.
- Then dip the chicken in the egg to coat.
- Finally, place the breasts in the bread crumb / Parmesan mixture, coating both sides. Use a piece of wax paper to press down firmly to ensure a good coating.
- Cover with a sheet of wrap, and put the breasts in the frig to rest.
Make the sauce
- In a saucepan, add 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic, Bay leaf and red pepper flakes. Let them simmer slowly. Don’t allow garlic to brown – take it out if it does.
- After a few minutes the kitchen will smell wonderful, then it’s time to pour in the tomatoes. Add a splash of wine or shot of vodka – alcohol brightens the tomato flavor.
- Let the sauce simmer on low.
Fry the chicken
- In a large (12+inch) non-stick pan. Pour in the olive oil. Heat it up to 325 or so – hot, but not smoking. Y’all have fried chicken before!
- Fry each side until golden brown, then place on a baking tray in the oven to finish.
- When you’ve finished frying all the chicken, turn oven to broil and top the chicken with the Mozzarella cheese.
- Broil until the cheese on is bubbling or starting to brown. (Until it looks right.)
Serve the sauce on the side. Enjoy!
Darn it, I’m starving.
Tim’s colleagues describe him as “ridiculously motivated” renaissance man with superb communication, team-building and leadership skills. He is a recognized expert in leveraging technology for organizations from athletics to high finance, and has been awarded 17 US Patents in technology. Tim is a contributing writer to HottyToddy.com and actively volunteers his technical, database and social media expertise to several nonprofits in his current home in New Jersey and in his home state of Mississippi. He is also a published author, chef and physical fitness enthusiast.
Tim and his wife Linda live in Morristown with their two sons. Tim is also the parent of Dr. Allison Pace DVM of Franklin, TN. Tim Heaton is a graduate of Ole Miss, where he is an active alumnus and supports the university in a variety of public relations efforts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.