Milanesa, Part 1: Argentinian Milanesa Napolitana

Food fascinates me for so many reasons. Specifically when I travel, I love the way popular cuisine tells the story of a region. It illustrates parts of an area’s past and its influence that often times lasts centuries.

I am in no way a history buff, so when it was revealed to me that the popularity of Italian food in Buenos Aires is tantamount to what Indian food is to London, I was both shocked and beyond happy! Eating Italian food in a Latin American country known for its love of Italian food was an opportunity I could not pass up. And I’m so glad I didn’t.

During my time in Argentina, I had the chance to try a must-have dish Argentines refer to as milanesa. It sounds a lot like the Italian milanese because it pretty much is just that — pounded chicken breast, coated in bread crumbs, fried and topped with a variety of different combinations of ingredients. The idea of this dish has always intrigued me, but it took me sitting down to two different kinds in a restaurant that specialized in making milanesas of all varieties to finally get me making a few versions of this dish in my own kitchen.

Thanks to my dining experience in Buenos Aires, I share with you this recipe for Milanesa Napolitana — one of the most popular milanesas offered in Argentina. It speaks to the presence of the Italian settlers that came to Buenos Aires centuries ago and the culinary mark they left behind. And it’s also damn tasty!

Argentinian Milanesa Napolitana

(recipe serving size – 2 to 4 people)

For the chicken brine:

1 lb chicken breast (2 pieces)

4 cups water

1/4 cup kosher salt

1 tsp granulated sugar

Fill a long flat container with the water. Whisk in the salt and sugar until it is completely dissolved. Butterfly each chicken breast and pound out each piece with a mallet until it has almost doubled in size. Lay the chicken in the salt and sugar solution and refrigerate for at least one hour.

For the spices:

2 tsp granulated garlic

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp basil

1 tsp cracked black pepper

Remove the chicken from the brine and pat both pieces dry. Coat each side of each piece with the spices.

For the breading:

1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs 

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp basil

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 eggs

1/4 cup water

Combine the panko and the spices in a food processor and process the breadcrumbs for 15 to 20 seconds. They should appear finer than before but still have a gritty texture to them. Pour the processed panko into a bowl.

Beat the eggs and water in another bowl. And place the flour in a 3rd bowl.

Heat 1/2 inch of canola oil in a pan over medium to medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, coat the chicken in the flour. Gently shake off any excess and transfer the chicken to the egg and water mixture. Coat both sides of the chicken and allow any excess egg to drip off of the protein. Transfer the chicken to the seasoned panko and coat each side of the chicken completely.

Gently place the coated chicken into the oil and fry for 5 minutes. Turn over and fry for another 5 minutes. Fry in batches if your pan is not large enough to fit both pieces and place the finished pieces of chicken in the oven, uncovered, to keep warm.

For the topping:

1 large beefsteak tomato or 2 plum tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick

16 fresh basil leaves

8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (or your favorite Italian cheese)

If you were keeping your milanesa warm, remove the chicken from the oven and turn the oven to broil.

Line each piece of chicken with basil and place the slices of tomato on top of it, covering the chicken as best you can. Broil for 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes begin to soften and blister. Add a layer of cheese across the tomatoes and return the chicken to the oven. Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly (2-5 minutes).

Bringing it all together:

Fresh basil for garnish, chopped

Crushed red pepper flakes for garnish and heat

Place your milanesa on separate plates. Sprinkle the basil and crushed red pepper flakes across each piece and serve while warm.

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