IN FOCUS: Chicken Parmigiana

Early Italian immigrants placed the seed of their al dente cuisine in us and since then we’ve raised it like it was a red-headed stepchild. 

Classic dishes were reduced to Continental Alfredo packet mixes and fast food pizzas that would start a civil war if they were brought into the wrong Italian household. However, one dish, albeit a bastardisation, emerged as a favourite – the chicken parmigiana. 

In Australia, the dish dates back to the 50s but is said to have rocketed on the counter meal scene in the 80s. “Traditionally”, a parmigiana is chicken schnitzel, a tomato-based sauce, a slice of ham and then covered in cheese. Any attempts to interfere with this tried & tested recipe is met with resistance. 

Gastropubs are often seen creating variations on the humble parmigiana – Aussie themed (with egg and bacon), Mexican themed (jalapenos and sour cream), Hawaiian themed (pineapple) etc. Purists won’t touch these and for good reason – would you paint a pair of jocks on Michelangelo’s David’s donger? Just admire the ugly mess for what it is. 

Naturally, this dish evokes interstate patriotism and to many, hearing the wrong slang in the wrong state can make people want to punch you right in the mouth. Parmy is favoured in WA and parma is what scarf-wearing, tramfuckers say. If you want to start a fight with the entire nation, slip in a parmo. Society isn’t ready to hear it. 

Whatever you call it, the humble Parmo has become more than just a pub meal. It’s also the great equaliser on which all counter meal menus are based on. If a pub can nail it they will have your loyalty forever. Secondly, it’s a good indicator as to WA’s current level of prosperity. 

For example, when Jet Ski owners walked the earth like boom-bosses, the dish could cost as much as $30+. Add a pint to that and you’re not getting much change from a pineapple. Why Geneva hasn’t included this in their list of war crimes is beyond us. Since then, we’ve seen it sink back to $25 levels. Still a gee-up. 

Needless to say, if you’re paying over $20 for a parmy it had better be good. Some classic infuriations are – soggy chips caused by placing the parmy on top of them. This creates a potato sauna and the dripping sweat of disappointment will really boil your gnocchi. 

Similarly, pubs trying to pass off frozen pleb-grade schnittys is a key issue. Everyone can tell the difference, you aren’t fooling anyone. Love what you do, or don’t make a single parmo in your life. 

This, of course, leaves the matter of the side salad. When you’re on your 4th Swanny D and having a parm-gasm you can be forgiven for neglecting this zesty little number. This is because sadly, 9/10 times it’s just lettuce and onion. That’s not a salad that’s a good base for compost. It’s not a deal-breaker but a coupla keynote veggies wouldn’t hurt.

As a final thought, you can do a lot of terrible things in your life but never stoop to frozen pre-made parmy meals from your local supermarket. It’s not dinner, it’s a cry for help. Have some self-respect.