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Parma Chameleon

chicken parm sandwich parma chameleon culture club
“And you used to be so sweet I heard you say that my love was an addiction”

Theme song by  Culture Club “Karma Chameleon” from Colour By Numbers
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I am not much of a Culture Club fan. I didn’t mind their particular brand of new wave pop but never actually bought their albums. I don’t skip them on a Spotify ’80s playlist, but don’t seek them out when looking for something to play. To be completely honest, I think I enjoyed the midwest white bread freak out over Boy George’s androgynous style and sexual ambiguity more than Culture Club’s actual musical output.

Yet, there’s an elephant in the room that needs to be discussed. In the midst of making solid ’80s pop tracks, Culture Club was also addressing the issues of gender identity decades before it would be a global issue. Boy George’s cross-dressing was the obvious visual cue, but lyrically they were going deeper while making radio-friendly pop hits. “I’m a man who doesn’t know how to sell a contradiction” or “Didn’t hear your wicked words every day and you used to be so sweet I heard you say” are lyrics underscored by a deeper meaning about gender fluidity and relationships. Honestly, as a marginal fan for over 40 years, it took me a long long time to understand the truth about this song. I’ll bat the vast majority of Top 40 Fans still have no clue. 

So I am certain this menu pun comes from Bob’s Burgers (the Parma Parma Parma Chameleon Burger with Parmesan) but I chose to go the Chicken Parm route.

I never make chicken parm at home due to the whole frying chicken cutlet thang. Spoiled by years of commercial fryers, I just hate frying at home. To satisfy my craving and create this recipe, I decided to make a fried cutlet “in disguise” by taking the oven baked route. In theory, this is a healthier option but any sandwich featuring breaded chicken and melted cheese isn’t exactly on the Heart Smart menu.

While I prefer using pretzels for chicken breading, I wanted to go traditional for this sandwich. I use panko rather than regular breadcrumbs because it results in a lighter crunchier crust and takes on a beautiful color. The other key element is getting some good parmesan. Buy a block in the specialty cheese section and grate it yourself. Never ever use pre-grated cheese and DEFINITELY never green can stuff. These two ingredients will make or break your sandwich, especially without the benefit of frying, so spend a little extra on great quality. 

I know I’ll probably make more than a few Italian food fanatics mad, but I don’t feel the marinara needs to be fussy for this sandwich. Keep it simple. Canned tomatoes and dried herbs are fine. No need to over think this – just make a quick simple sauce. I do recommend taking the time to make actual garlic butter for the bread. No garlic powder and butter mix can replace the punch of real garlic paste mixed with butter.

Parmesan crusted chicken breast, marinara, and mozzarella on a Portuguese roll
Makes 2 sandwiches

For the chicken
1 chicken breast, split into 2 fillets
1/4 cup panko
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dijon mustard

For the marinara
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the garlic butter
1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves garlic
Kosher salt

For the sandwich
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
2 Portuguese or Italian rolls for the sandwich

Take the garlic cloves and give them a fine mince. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the minced garlic and with the side of your knife, grind the garlic and salt into a paste. Mix the paste with the tablespoon of butter and set aside.

I’m the first to admit this is not proper Italian Nonna marinara, but for the purposes of this sandwich or for a homemade pizza it works pretty damn well.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic is just starting to get some color. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine thoroughly. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a shallow bowl, combine the panko, parmesan, basil, garlic powder, Aleppo pepper, and black pepper. Mix until completely combined. Rub each chicken fillet with half of the dijon mustard – coating each side. Toss the fillets in the parmesan breading, pressing the coating into the chicken. Place the coated chicken on the baking sheet. Put the chicken in the oven and set a timer for 7 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, split open your sandwich rolls and coat the inside with garlic butter. When 7 minutes is up, take the chicken out of the oven, use tongs to flip the chicken, and place the garlic buttered sandwich rolls on the baking sheet with the chicken. Place the pan back into the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes.

When the timer finishes, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Take the garlic bread rolls off of the sheet and set aside. Spoon 1 tablespoon of marinara over each chicken fillet and top with shredded mozzarella. Place the chicken back in the oven for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

To assemble the sandwich, spread a tablespoon of marinara on the bottom of the roll – place a chicken fillet on the roll – top with the other half of the roll.

Posted in bushwick, comfort food, cooking, food, foodmusic, grillclub, music, musicfood, recipe, sandwich


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  2. Ernest Michaels

    Actually, “Parma Chameleon” was a song in the 80s running on the radio stations in Cleveland, OH … with the suburb of Parma Ohio.

    Instead of “She comes and goes, she comes and goes”, the lyric is “Cheese Wiz and Stroh’s, Cheese Wiz and Stroh’s”

    I can’t find the exact lyrics yet, but “Parma Chameleon” was big out here.

    • Frank Davis

      Oh wow – I never really put Parma Ohio together with a Parm sandwich much less as a pun on Culture Club. “Cheea Wia & Stroh’s” is brilliant. Plus, as a midwest beer, Stroh’s is underappreciated.

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