Why Is It Called Chicken Parmesan If It’s Made with Mozzarella? (Explained!)

Chicken Parmesan, also known as Chicken Parmigiana, is named not after the Parmesan cheese but possibly from the dish it was cooked in (damigiana) or from the Italian for roof slats (palmigiana) due to the layering in the dish. Originating in America from Italian immigrants, it adapted from the vegetarian melanzane alla Parmigiana, substituting eggplant with chicken, reflecting the affordability of meat in the US. 

What is the History of Chicken Parmesan?

I am going to come right out and say that despite extensive research, I haven’t come up with a definitive answer!

There are many theories as to how chicken parmesan got its name, some more plausible than others.

But there is evidence of when and where it first originated that may throw some light on the subject.

You may be surprised to learn that it is not an Italian dish, but it does have its roots in Italy.

Chicken parmesan is based on a recipe called melanzane alla Parmigiana, but the difference is that it is vegetarian and uses eggplant.

It was seen as a cheap staple dish in Italy, particularly in the southern regions of the country.

And this is where we begin to find a discrepancy in one theory as regards its name.

Many have suggested that it is named after Parma, but this is a northern Italian city, and unlikely to have been familiar with the dish.

During the early 20th century, many Italians emigrated to America and took their cuisine with them.

But, they discovered that meat was not a luxury in the United States, and, thus, came up with chicken parmigiana.

Essentially, just replaces the eggplant with chicken. 

Where Does Chicken Parmesan Get Its Name From?

So, we have ruled out the obvious answer, that it is named after the Italian city of Parma.

Let’s take a look at the next theory, which is much more plausible!

The recipe was traditionally cooked in a dish called a damigiana. 

It’s entirely possible that some confusion arose over the years and that damigiana was eventually substituted with the word parmigiana.

One suggestion that has repeatedly been refuted seems perfectly reasonable to me!

And that is the idea why the dish was originally named palmigiana, which is Italian for the slats on a roof.

And you can see why, as the slices of eggplant are similarly layered in the dish. 

As the name was handed down, the spelling may simply have changed.

So, I guess you can take any of these theories, they may be correct or not, but the truth has been lost over the years!

Chicken Parmesan

My Thoughts

  • Chicken parmesan was invented in America, not Italy
  • Italian immigrants began to use chicken rather than eggplant, having realized that meat was more affordable in the states 
  • Its correct name is chicken parmigiana, but it is unlikely to have been named after the city of Parma
  • The name may come from the dish it was traditionally cooked in, a damigiana
  • Another theory is that the name came from the Italian word for roof slats, as the original dish consisted of layers of eggplant slices 

So, I am sorry I didn’t come up with a definitive answer, but I hope you enjoyed the article anyway!

If curious about other versions of chicken parmesan, find out if it can be made with provolone instead.

How do you think cultural adaptations of traditional dishes influence their authenticity and popularity?

Let us know in the comments below!

Leave a Comment