My wife and I recently took a cruise out of Baltimore to the Caribbean. When we started planning it last year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that cruise ships sail out of the port in Charm City – after all, that means we DC-area residents don’t have to fly down to Florida, nor pay for a hotel room the night before departure. And that meant no checked baggage fees!
Eating is a major part of any cruise vacation, and this voyage was no exception. Along with the main dining room aboard, the ship offered complimentary room service, a casual buffet restaurant open most hours of the day, and assorted snacks and late night eats throughout the ship. At dinner each night in the main dining room, the wait staff became notorious at our 8-top table for bringing out multiple dishes during every course. Seriously, by just asking if we should order one entree or another, they’d bring both! We were on the second seating, which I’m pretty sure meant they were trying to clear out their inventory each night, but I wasn’t complaining. Overall, the food was good – and there was plenty of it! – though I think it’s fair to call the food above average overall rather than great. When cooking for 2,000+ guests at a time, even when spread out over two seatings, I imagine it’s virtually impossible to cook a la carte or spend too much time on any one plate.
Not that I’m complaining, of course; I greatly enjoyed the vacation. While I’m studiously avoiding any product placement here, I think it’s a great option for you local food lovers, especially if you want to try out a cruise without the added complexity of flying. The escargot served one night were better than I ever remembered sampling with my father years ago, and the braised lamb shank served on an Italian-themed night was fall-apart tender and not at all overpowering. The desserts were quite nice as well – several of us tried a flourless chocolate cake one night that was so texturally smooth and filled with chocolate flavor that my tablemates decided it was more like fudge than anything resembling a cake. Their tiramisu was excellent, with a strong coffee flavor and the liqueur managed not to completely overpower the dish.
We had a slight challenge when we returned home, though. Aside from the inner-ear confusion that made me think my couch was experiencing some pitching and rolling, we had barely anything in the house to eat when we arrived, and I had little inclination to cook much of anything. Yet I also didn’t really want to go out to eat – we’d functionally been eating out for the past seven days, and I think I craved a meal that I could put together at home. And when I finally got to the grocery store, I was inspired by a dish I’d seen at dinner one evening on board the ship. My wife had ordered Parmesan-crusted turkey tenderloin and found it to be superb, and I wondered if I could recreate anything similar at home.
I made up the following recipe as I went along, and as I so often do, I placed a high premium on minimizing my labor. I had this dish prepped and in the oven in less than 10 minutes, meaning it’s just barely a 30-minute meal with the cooking time. And it turned out quite nicely, even given its relative amateurism. Look, I know well that I’m not going to open a restaurant with this recipe, but this came together quickly and was surprisingly good. I think this could be good with any number of other herbs and spices – I think chopped rosemary or sage would go really nicely with the Parmesan – so if you try it out, I’d love to hear from you about any variations.
Parmesan-crusted Chicken Cutlets
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus more if needed to coat chicken cutlets)
Dried Italian herbs or other herbs/spices as preferred
Line a sheet pan with foil, then set a cooling rack inside. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the eggs with a tablespoon of water for a few strokes until the mixture is generally uniform in color. Lay each chicken breast flat on a cutting board and carefully hold them down, one at a time, with your spare hand, while you slice through them parallel to the cutting board. You should end up with four cutlets of relatively even thickness, and if you’re so inclined, you can even pound them with a kitchen mallet.
Dunk the chicken cutlets in the egg wash, roll them in the grated Parmesan, then set on the prepared cooling rack. The cheese won’t stick quite as firmly as breadcrumbs would, so feel free to sprinkle more cheese on the cutlets once they’re on the rack.
Top each cutlet with a dash of kosher salt and a generous sprinkling of dried herbs. I used dried Italian herbs from my pantry, and they went very well with the Parmesan. Make sure to cover the whole top of the cutlet evenly – you don’t want to drown it in herbs, but they’ll taste better if you get the cheese and the herbs in every bite.
Cook for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of your cutlets – the chicken breasts I’d bought were from DelMarVa and were quite large, so I went for 20 minutes. Then set your oven to broil for 3-4 minutes to brown the tops. Keep an eye on them here, but make sure the cutlets are fully browned – I found that the best flavor was in the cutlets with well-browned tops and plenty of herbs.
Serve with a vegetable – and rejoice in a 30-minute dinner.
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