Is There A Difference Between Chicken Parmigiana And Chicken Parmesan?

Chicken Parmesan is one of the most beloved items on the menu in any Italian restaurant. This delicious entree takes thin chicken cutlets and coats them in breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. The cutlets are fried and then baked with marinara sauce and a layer of mozzarella cheese. The final result is a satisfying mixture of flavors and textures. 

But you're not likely to see it on the menu in any Italian restaurant outside of the U.S. or Australia. Chicken Parmesan is a home-grown Italian American invention, just like The Sopranos, Chicago-style pizza, and spaghetti and meatballs. But is chicken "Parmigiana" any different? Is that the name for the Italian version? The short story: no, they are one and the same thing. But — as often happens with food — there's a bit of backstory and a short language lesson involved.

It all starts with Parma, Italy, a beautiful and historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. Parma is famous for its gastronomy, but it's best known for its world-renowned cheese, known in Italian as "Parmigiano Reggiano."

Parma-style, but hold the Parma

Parmigiano literally means "from Parma" and is the same word used for a man who hails from that city of earthly delights. A woman from Parma would be a "parmigiana" and the addition of "alla" means "in the style of." So "alla Parmigiana" means Parma-style: something cooked or prepared the way they do it in Parma.

While Chicken alla Parmigiana or Parmigiana is a new world creation, it's a riff on something they really do make in the old country called Melanzane (Eggplant) alla parmigiana. Even experts like Clifford Wright aren't quite sure why that recipe is called Parmigiana. It's common in various parts of Southern Italy, but not actually in the northern city of Parma. It does include some Parmesan cheese, but it's not really the main event. Whatever region it originated in, however, the eggplant version is considered authentically Italian, and the eggplants involved are given the same treatment as the meat in a Chicken Parm. Slices of eggplant are coated in egg, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan, then fried, and then baked with layers of tomato sauce and mozzarella. 

It appears that Italian American immigrants in the Northeastern US took the basic technique and applied it to thinly sliced cuts of meat, and a culinary star was born. You call it Parmesan, I call it Parmigiana. Either way, we're talking about the same delicious cutlet. Buon Appetito!