If the part of On the Road you best remember is the frequency of references to apple pie and ice cream, Gott’s Roadside is undoubtedly the place for you. Founded in St. Helena in 1999, this James Beard America’s Classic family of restaurants revisits American roadside classics with top-notch Californian ingredients. Niman Ranch beef patties are topped with Cowgirl Creamery cheese; fries come heaped with house-made chili. But we’ve got a hunch our pal Sal would have been a particular fan of one Italian-accented item: a dolled-up chicken parm sandwich made with crispy chicken breasts piled on a buttered Italian roll with house-made tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, pressed until golden brown.
The seasonal specialty is only available in February and March — a choice made, according to Jen Rebman, Culinary Director at Gott’s Roadside, for a couple of reasons.
“This sandwich is super craveable and comforting during the colder, rainier months,” she explains. And of course, much like the first season’s strawberries (or the occasional return of the McRib), “it’s fun to have something to look forward to.”
“It’s more special when offered for a limited time,” Rebman continues. “Our guests look forward to its arrival every year.”
Lucky for us, Rebman has agreed to share her secrets, so you can enjoy this sandwich whenever a craving strikes.
A bit of advance planning is your friend. Consider beginning the day before by making the sauce, featuring hand-crushed canned tomatoes simmered with garlic, olive oil, dried oregano, fresh basil and a touch of chile. You may also wish to add a pinch of sugar, but you can trust your palate on this one.
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“Some canned tomatoes are naturally sweeter and will not require the addition of sugar,” says Rebman.
The sauce should be cooked low and slow until reduced by half. Rebman notes it can even be frozen, “so it is available for a last-minute craving.”
With the sauce made, it’s time to focus on the star of this sandwich: the chicken. Dredged in flour spiked with a touch of Italian seasoning (usually, Rebman notes, a combo of dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper, toasted garlic powder, salt and pepper), the chicken is marinated in buttermilk for at least two hours and up to a day — a step that she notes helps both to tenderize and season the chicken.
When you’re ready to serve, coat the chicken breasts in panko and fry until crisp. Top them with sauce, basil, mozzarella and parmesan on Panorama rolls — Rebman’s local favorite.
“The rolls have a harder outer shell and a soft, chewy interior, which makes them perfect for pressing,” she explains. “The bread’s outer shell becomes golden brown and crunchy when buttered and pressed so that it holds all of the juicy, saucy ingredients without getting soggy.”
Once they’re pressed either in a skillet or a panini press, you’ll be rewarded with the freshest, tastiest chicken parm sandwich ever.
Chicken Parmesan Sandwich
- For the tomato sauce
- 1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 sprig fresh basil
- Pinch sugar, only if necessary
- For the chicken
- 4 chicken breasts (4 to 4.5 oz each)
- ¼ cup flour, seasoned with Italian seasoning to taste
- ⅓ cup buttermilk
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- Oil for frying
- For the sandwiches
- 4 Italian rolls
- 4 ounces shredded parmesan cheese
- 3 to 5 fresh basil leaves per sandwich, depending on size
- 8 slices fresh mozzarella
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
For the Sauce
Place tomatoes and juice in a bowl and carefully crush with your hands. Set aside. Heat the oil in a pot over medium-low heat, and add the minced garlic. Sweat until tender and translucent. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, chili flakes, salt and basil to the pot, and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat, and simmer until the sauce has reduced by half (the sauce should be thick, with little liquid remaining). Taste and add a pinch of sugar if desired for balance. The sauce can be frozen at this point or stored in the fridge for up to one week.
For the Chicken
Fully coat the chicken breasts in dredge. Pour the buttermilk over the chicken, and mix well until all pieces are fully coated. Cover and chill at least two hours or up to 24 hours.
When ready to serve, remove the chicken from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before frying. (Frying cold chicken will drop the temperature of the oil significantly and the chicken will cook unevenly.)
Heat enough oil to fully submerge the chicken in a high-sided pot to 350 degrees. Place the dredged chicken breasts one at a time into the breadcrumbs and fully coat each piece, then carefully place into the fry oil. Fry until cooked through and golden brown; approximately 5-7 minutes. (If chicken is not fully submerged in oil, flip over halfway through the cooking process to ensure even cooking.)
Allow fried chicken to drain on a wire rack or paper towels to remove excess oil prior to building sandwiches. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked.
For the Sandwiches
First, warm the tomato sauce slightly. Slice the rolls in half lengthwise, and place face-up on your work surface. Place the fried chicken on the bottom half of the roll. Top the chicken with three ounces of warmed tomato sauce, then cover with basil leaves.
Sprinkle shredded parmesan cheese across the basil leaves, then add two slices of mozzarella and place the top on the sandwich.
Place butter in a skillet on medium-low heat, and add your sandwiches. Press sandwiches down using a steak weight or a pan slightly smaller than your skillet. Sandwiches should be golden brown and crunchy on both sides. (Note: If you have a panini press you can butter both sides of your sandwich and press until golden brown.)
Carefully remove from heat, cut in half and serve immediately.
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