The classic Italian cotoletta alla bolognese is a breaded veal cutlet that is pan-fried, then topped with salty, savory sliced prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In an unusual twist, the ham-and-cheese layered cutlets are cooked in a simple pan sauce just long enough to melt the Parmesan; the bottom crust softens but the surface retains its toastiness. For our version, we slice boneless, skinless chicken breasts in half horizontally to create cutlets about ½ inch thick that do not require pounding. To balance the saltiness of the prosciutto and cheese, we make a simple lemony, butter-enriched pan sauce and serve the cutlets with lemon wedges for squeezing.
Don’t use pre-shredded Parmesan cheese. Freshly shredded true Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) had the best texture when melted. (To shred the cheese, use the small holes on a box grater; a wand-style grater yields a fine, fluffy texture that makes the cheese difficult to divide among the cutlets.) Finally, when adding the water to the pan, be sure to pour it around the cutlets, not on top of them.
Two 8- to 9-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large egg
¾ cup plain dry breadcrumbs
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, cut into 4 pieces
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4 thin slices prosciutto
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, shredded on the small holes of a box grater (1½ cups)
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve
Using a chef’s knife, slice each chicken breast in half horizontally, creating a total of 4 cutlets, each about ½ inch thick. In a wide bowl, beat the egg well. In a wide, shallow dish (such as a pie plate), stir together the breadcrumbs and ½ teaspoon pepper. One at a time, coat the cutlets in egg on both sides, letting any excess drip off, then coat both sides with crumbs, pressing to adhere. Place the cutlets in a single layer on a large plate and refrigerate uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes.
In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the cutlets in a single layer and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, flip the cutlets, then add the butter and garlic, placing them in the spaces between the cutlets; swirl the skillet until the butter is melted. Pour ½ cup water around the edges of the skillet; do not pour directly onto the cutlets. Working quickly with the pan still over medium-high, lay 1 prosciutto slice onto each cutlet, then sprinkle with the Parmesan, dividing it evenly. Cover and cook until the Parmesan is melted, about 2 minutes.
Uncover and cook until about ¼ cup of liquid remains in the pan, about 30 seconds. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cutlets to a serving platter. Off heat, remove and discard the garlic from the skillet, then stir in the lemon juice. Spoon the sauce over the cutlets and serve with lemon wedges.