About six months after I started doing Cooking Live, a viewer called in to ask what exactly Chicken Francese was. I shot from the hip -- something I don't like to do -- and said I thought it was chicken coated in an eggy batter and then sauteed. The next day I pored through all my favorite Italian cookbooks and found no mention of Chicken Francese. Stumped, I finally reasoned that if Italians from Italy didn't know anything about it, Chicken Francese was probably an Italian-American invention.
Sure enough, when I stumbled across a recipe for it several years later, it was Gerard Renny's The Men of the Pacific Street Social Club Cook Italian, a fun cookbook about the now-vanished Italian community from the Brooklyn neighborhood called East New York. The recipe came from Gerard's cousin's mom, who used to make it when she got tired of the traditional way of frying chicken cutlets. It turned out I hadn't steered my caller very far wrong. Chicken Francese is pretty much what I'd guessed it to be, with the addition of butter and lemon. It is a quick and tasty dish for any night of the week. I have adapted Gerard's recipe slightly and added fried herbs as an optional (but really tasty!) garnish.
Sprinkle a small amount of water on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Place half of the chicken slices on top of the plastic and sprinkle again with water. Cover with another sheet of plastic wrap and pound with a rolling pin or meat pounder until about 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
Beat the eggs with the cheese in a large bowl to blend. Mix the flour with the salt and pepper in a shallow pie plate. Place the chicken in the flour and turn to coat on all sides. Dip into the egg mixture and lift to let the excess drip off. Return to the flour and turn again to coat on all sides.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, dip the chicken 1 last time in the egg mixture and add to the hot skillet. Cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a large platter, cover loosely with foil, and continue with the remaining scaloppine. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, if needed.
Heat about 2 inches vegetable oil in a small deep saucepan over medium-high heat until a deep-fat thermometer registers 350 degrees F. Working in batches, add the herbs, patted very dry, a small handful at a time and fry until crisp, about 10 seconds. They will bubble up furiously. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
Add the butter, lemon juice, and chopped parsley to the skillet and heat until bubbling. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon a small amount of the sauce over each piece of chicken, top with the fried herbs, and serve at once.
Recipe courtesy of Sara Moulton, "Sara Moulton Cooks at Home", Broadway Books, 2002