How to Make a Perfect Low-Carb Chicken Parmesan
Perfect Low-Carb Chicken Parmesan Directions
Chicken parmesan, or chicken parmigiana. Either way you say it, it’s an ooey-gooey little hunk of heaven. A cheesy, saucy, flavorful explosion of unparalleled delight. Quite possibly the tastiest thing you could ever put in your mouth.
But if you’re trying to follow a low-carb diet, it’s an automatic no-no, right? How can all those carbs be justified?
Of course, there’s no justifying the carbs. But ultimately, there’s a savory solution to this problem. Simple, effective, delicious ways, too. For those who feel they’ve been missing out, chicken parmesan is back on the menu.
The secret? You have to get creative about it. While it’s true that a traditional chicken parmesan has a lot of hidden carbohydrates lying in wait to throw off your daily carb count, all it takes is a little outside-the-box thinking to get everything back on track.
Traditionally, the biggest chicken parm-related controversy is about pork. Specifically, chefs are divided about whether it’s still chicken parmigiana if you add a slice of ham or bacon to it? If something like that is enough to get chefs riled up, imagine the heated debate that would ensue if you suggested substituting the breadcrumbs with pork.
That’s right. Pork-crusted chicken parmesan! Of course, if pork isn’t welcome on your fork, we also have some other breading alternatives for you to try.
Intrigued? Read on.
Where do the carbs come from?
In a traditional chicken parmesan, the biggest carb culprits are the breadcrumbs and the tomato sauce. The breading should come as no surprise to anyone who’s used to counting carbs, but the sauce might throw you for a loop.
Here’s the deal with tomato sauce. Tomatoes are sugary. They may not have as much fructose as mangos, but they still have a fair bit.
To make matters worse, many commercial sauces add sugar to their recipes. And it’s your blood sugar pays for it in the end.
So let’s break it all down, look at what’s throwing your blood sugar off, and come up with some viable, tasty alternatives to get chicken parm back on the menu for you.
Step 1: Getting the right tomato sauce
So how do you get a decent low-carb tomato sauce? Well, there are essentially four ways to go about it:
- buy a pre-approved sauce from a list compiled by someone who’s done rigorous research with a low-carb focus
- spend a lot of time reading labels
- make your own sauce from canned tomatoes
- if you’re particularly hardcore and have a bit of time on your hands, buy bulk raw tomatoes and do your own canning
As far as pre-approved lists go, you might want to try this one compiled by the good folks at Greatist. If you need help narrowing the list down, try one of the marinara sauces. That’ll give your parm that essential tangy zip to truly elevate it beyond the mundane. Or if you have time to place an order, try one of these great sauces.
If you opt to go the label-reading route, a good shortcut is to go straight to the ingredient list. Don’t waste time doing mental long division as you look at the nutritional info and try to deduce what a recommended serving will do to your daily carb allowance. What matters is learning what ingredients are inside the jar. Short lists are better than long ones. And simple, pronounceable ingredients are better than a list of chemicals you might need a Ph.D. to figure out. And put back any jar that says it has added sugar.
If you’ve got any skills in the kitchen, whipping up your own sauce from scratch is dead easy. Grab a can of diced or crushed tomatoes from the canned vegetable aisle and a recipe from the internet and off you go. That’s definitely one way to make sure no one’s slipping extra sugar into your sauce.
Canning your own tomatoes
Of course, the ultimate way to control your intake is can your own tomatoes. However, if you’re not already canning things, this method requires some time, money, and space. There’s a bit of a learning curve, too.
Timewise, you have to track down bulk tomatoes, wash them, prep them, and all the other stuff it takes to get them ready to jar. In some Italian families that take tomato sauce seriously, days on end are devoted to canning tomatoes every year.
And let’s not forget that doing it right requires a fair bit of gear. And storage space, too—a cold cellar might come in handy, though it’s not necessary.
Canning is by far the best method of controlling everything that goes into your food. But roll up your sleeves. It’s a lot of work.
Step 2: The perfect breadcrumb
We tracked down the perfect breading substitute over at the Tastaholics website. It turns out they also wanted to figure out how to make chicken parmesan fit into the low-carb lifestyle and did extensive research and testing to figure it all out.
They tried a number of things instead of breadcrumbs. Almond flour, coconut flour, more parmesan. But in the end, they discovered the best low-carb breading was . . . pork rinds!
That’s right. Whiz up some pork rinds in a food processor until it’s the consistency of breadcrumbs. Then mix it with grated parmesan. A half ounce of pork rind breading to every tablespoon of parmesan.
You can get the whole recipe, including a demonstration video, here.
Other breading alternatives
If you’re not sold on breading your chicken cutlet with pork rinds, there are other things you can try. The recipe above uses pork rinds because that’s what stuck best to the chicken in their testing. But if pork isn’t your thing, there are other options worth exploring.
Others have reported good results breading with almond meal, parmesan cheese, coconut flour, and panko. If you try parmesan, use the real stuff, grated fresh off the block. Testers have reported that the shaky parm doesn’t form a good crust. And Italian food enthusiasts will shake their heads when they see you buying it. Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow. If it can be shelved at room temperature, it’s not real cheese. Don’t eat it.
Some have had good results with quinoa, but others argue that quinoa isn’t that low-carb. It’s better than breadcrumbs, but it’s definitely not suitable for a keto diet.
Step 3: Ditch the extras
Resisting the urge to add in extra carbs should be a given at this point. Sure, many of us fell in love with chicken parmesan served on a bed of white pasta. Still others were wooed by it baked in a pie. And let’s not forget how it wormed its way into the hearts of millions in its most carb-unfriendly incarnation yet, serving as the middle of a submarine sandwich.
If you’re going to go through the effort of finding or making a low-sugar tomato sauce and making your own breading out of pork rinds, why add extra carbs now?
Consider instead serving your chicken parmesan with a salad. Or, maybe brown rice. And if you’re going to use pasta, choose a good low-carb noodle.
Put the power of parmesan on your plate tonight
It’s tricky trying to figure out low-carb alternatives for all your old favorites. When you first try the low-carb lifestyle, it seems like you may never eat some of the things you love ever again.
Thankfully, some people living this lifestyle never surrender. They work tirelessly to find ways to bring all their comfort foods under the low-carb umbrella. And while some food faves may never be a good fit with this lifestyle, it’s good to know that breaded foods like the classic chicken parmesan—or chicken parmigiana—are now part of the program.
All it took was a little creativity.