Just the Right Chicken Parmesan

A classic Italian-American Parmesan — a casserole of fried, breaded meat or eggplant covered with tomato sauce and molten cheese — is all about balance.

Have questions about recipes, cooking and food? My job is to answer them. Ask me anything:

Recipes often say to heat oil in a sauté pan until it is hot but not smoking. Short of having a highly specialized thermometer, how the hell am I supposed to know when an eighth of an inch of oil is about to smoke?

Put a few tablespoons of oil into a sauté pan and set it over high heat. Watch what happens. The temperature rises and the oil begins to loosen a little, to lose some of its viscosity. It spreads across the pan. Then it begins to shimmer, dance, almost to giggle. Then it begins to smoke. Then it burns. Here endeth the lesson: The shimmer is your highly specialized thermometer. It tells you the oil is hot and good to go.

Would you please help me determine how best to adjust baking times for a gas oven versus an electric oven? There must be something more reliable than a cook’s intuition.

Electric ovens generally provide a more even heat than gas ones, and as a result can cook “faster” than gas, at least at high temperatures. But not always. That’s why good recipes don’t just tell you at what temperature to bake and for what period of time, but what the pie or cake or cookies should look like or feel like at the end: “golden brown at the edges,” say. Baking may be a science. But that doesn’t make it any less of an art.

“Serve immediately.” What does this mean? Why do some recipes include this imperative?

Because no one likes room-temperature French fries. Next!

Is it possible to keep the yolk in the center of a hard-boiled egg so that deviled eggs turn out neatly?

Some will tell you to lay the eggs on their sides for a day before you cook them, to “center” the yolks. Others will tell you to turn them upside down to achieve the same result. There is a crowd that would have you lay the eggs carefully in cold water in a pan, heat it slowly to a boil, then stir the eggs carefully in one direction, and then another. You can try all of that. But the truth is, there is no one better at centering a yolk than Mama Chicken herself. The best bet is to get the freshest eggs you can find, which will help in matters of taste, too.

Now that I’ve made enough tomato sauce to last all winter (in the freezer), what should I put it on when I’m sick of pasta?

You could put a nice piece of steamed or roasted halibut on top of it. You could drop meatballs into the sauce and serve them with bread. Or you could make like Melissa Clark, and use the sauce as a base for a luscious dinner of chicken Parmesan shown above.

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