Why Alton Brown Is Rethinking Some Classic Recipes for His New Cookbook
The pioneering chef shares his updated Chicken Parm recipe from his fourth and final installment.
Chef Alton Brown is many things at once. He has the warmth and the charm of Chef Massimo Bottura, and the sass and humor of Gordon Ramsay. He is precise like Heston Blumenthal, but also playful like Jamie Oliver. It’s hard to describe the culinary style of a chef whose cooking philosophy sways between “scientific” on one end, and “cooking with your heart” on the other.
This month, his best-selling cookbook titled Good Eats is debuting “The Final Years”—its fourth and final installment. While some writers might feel a sense of bereavement over the final chapter, Brown displays signature nonchalance. “Oh, I feel just fine,” he tells us. “I mean, as long as I’m doing food-related projects, Good Eats will always be a part of the mix because that’s me. I am essentially Good Eats, or maybe it’s the other way around.”
Long before celebrity chefs influenced us on social media, and certainly before TikTok and Reels got them hopping onto viral cooking trends as a way to leave a mark, Brown was a pioneering personality in the food world. He started in 1999 with his show Good Eats and his first book I’m Just Here For The Food released in 2002. The former ran successfully for 14 years and he has since published eight best-selling cookbooks.
“I never paid attention to trends,” he says. “I’ve always made the shows and written the books that I wanted to make. I’ve been fortunate to have clients who left me to do that.”
From all of his four cookbooks from the Good Eats series, Brown admits that the final one was the hardest to put together. “This new book contains a great deal of original food photography as well as behind the scenes photos, things that we just didn’t have for the first three books,” he says. “There are also more illustrations and in-depth explanations. Honestly, the first three books were written specifically for people who had actually seen the shows, whereas I assumed with this book that they hadn’t.”
It’s hard to describe the culinary style of a chef whose cooking philosophy sways between “scientific” on one end, and “cooking with your heart” on the other.
The fourth has several recipes such as lasagna, shrimp cocktail, and chili that never appeared on TV, which is a first for any Good Eats book. “They had to be tackled differently and I am especially pleased with it,” he tells me.
So that the last cookbook stays within the family of the series, Brown has arranged it like all the other Good Eats books, chronologically running from the first season of reloads to the last, “With the two seasons of ‘The Return’ laced in. So if you’re after a particular recipe, best to search the index. Also, there’s a lot of bonus material and footnotes…sometimes the best stuff is in the footnotes,” he promises.
To keep recipes relevant months after they have been aired, he follows a certain process of revisiting recipes and making them relevant for contemporary usage. “It’s a two-pronged process. First, it’s about re-evaluating the actual instructions, that is the written instructions of the recipe, and then re-evaluating the resulting dish. Sometimes, new research emerges, or certain ingredients become more readily available and that can change things, too.” This also applies to when fans don’t like a dish anymore, “Or when I don’t like it!”
One classic that stuck around is his Chicken Parm, which first appeared in season one of his show. Brown says that the Italian-American classic has unfortunately long been plagued by soggy breading, uninspired sauce, and melted cheese that turns gummy. But his method, using San Marzano tomatoes and a crispy coating, guarantees all the ideal textures and flavors.
Alton Brown’s Chicken Parm Recipe
Yield: 4 servings
Yield: 5 cups
• ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 6 large cloves garlic + 2½ tablespoons minced
• 4 anchovy filets
• ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 2 cans peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained, with the liquid reserved
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 (2-inch) Parmesan rind
• 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
• 2 large eggs, beaten
• 1½ cups salt-and-vinegar potato chips
• ¾ cup plain breadcrumbs
• 2 teaspoons dried parsley
• 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
• 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
• 1 cup Red Sauce
• ½ cup low-moisture mozzarella cheese, grated
• ½ cup Italian-style semi soft Fontina cheese, grated
• Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
1. Start by making the sauce. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the anchovies and red pepper flakes and continue cooking, breaking up the anchovies with the back of a wooden spoon, until they dissolve into the oil, about 1 minute.
2. Add the tomatoes and salt. Break up the tomatoes with the spoon, then submerge the Parmesan rind in the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is au sec, or almost dry, about 1 hour.
3. Fish out and discard the Parmesan rind. The sauce is ready for immediate use, or you can cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge. It freezes exceedingly well.
4. To make the chicken parm, ensure that the breast pieces are really thin, so split them butterfly-style with a sharp knife, only cut all the way through to produce two pieces (four total). Then pound them gently until they’re evenly thinned to around ⅛ inch.
5. Cut each plank into six to eight even pieces. Season these with salt on both sides, place on a wire cooling rack set inside a half sheet pan, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. Set up the breading station: The flour goes in the first loaf pan or pie tin; the beaten eggs in the second. Finely crush the potato chips (yes, with your fingers) into the third, and stir in the breadcrumbs, dried parsley, oregano, and garlic powder. Set the second clean wire rack inside its half sheet pan nearby to hold the breaded pieces.
7. Retrieve the chicken and blot well with paper towels. Dredge the chicken first in the flour (shake off the excess), then dip in the beaten eggs (again, drain the excess), and finally coat with the breadcrumbs before placing on the prepared rack (don’t shake off any excess). Allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, position an oven rack in the top third of the oven and crank the broiler to high. Line another sheet pan with paper towels and top with an inverted cooling rack. Have it standing by for the cooked chicken to land on.
9. Place the sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil to it. When the butter foams, add half of the breaded chicken to the pan, but don’t overcrowd. Cook, undisturbed except to turn it, until crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes per side, adding more oil as needed. Transfer the golden pieces to the rack, wipe out the pan, and repeat with the remaining butter, oil, and chicken.
10. Spread three-quarters of the red sauce in the bottom of a broiler-safe enameled cast-iron pan and broil until the sauce bubbles and begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes.
11. Remove the pan from the oven and arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer on top of the sauce. Dot with the remaining sauce, leaving bare spots to retain crispiness. Scatter with the mozzarella and fontina.
12. Return to the broiler just until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown, 1 to 1½ minutes. Garnish with the fresh parsley and serve hot.