How did the pub chef ruin a perfectly good schnitzel? By covering it with tomato sauce more acrid than Easy-Off Bam and coagulated dishcloth disguised as cheese.
The chicken parmigiana is a waste of kilojoules. An abuse of deep-fried chook. The schnitzel is already perfect with lemon, mash and gravy. Why anyone would want to make its crunchy coating soggy with sugo is beyond me.
Tomato and chicken is a flavour combination with all the thrill of an Upstairs, Downstairs remake. Or, as English author Niki Segnit puts it in The Flavour Thesaurus, "hard to get that excited about, once you've grown out of drenching your dinosaur-shaped chicken bites in tomato ketchup".
I have no issue with Campania's parmigiana di melanzane, where sliced, floured and fried eggplant is layered with basil, tomato-onion sauce, hard-boiled eggs, mozzarella and parmesan. It's a vital and vivacious dish that speaks of its region.
Chicken parma speaks of joints with too many TAB screens and not enough hand wash in the loo. It speaks of pub owners who reckon a $15 porterhouse is all you need to get punters through the door.
It speaks of a chef who would rather be anywhere other than in a kitchen where 90 per cent of prep involves a Birds Eye box. With the loudest volume, it speaks of Milhouse men who miss Ralph magazine and post in WhatsApp groups with names like the "Schnitty Committee" and "Parmy Army".
(Parenthetically, "parma" is a naff, but reasonably harmless abbreviation. "Chicken parmy", however, makes my ears vomit. Much like when I hear "toastie", "bubbly", "burg" or "food baby".)
Should the chips be served underneath the schnitzel or to the side? It doesn't matter. Does a chicken parma need ham? Doesn't matter. A better question is "what is being pumped into Australia's chooks so their breasts are the size of a Clydesdale's hoof?" Or "just how much is the pub profiting from pokie addicts so it can afford to charge $10 for a counter meal?"
Parma for a Farmer has kicked off for the second year and I'm all for the initiative. Registered venues donate a percentage of each parmigiana sold to the Buy a Bale campaign, which provides tangible resources to communities affected by drought, flood or fire. It's a beaut idea, but I'd love to see participating pubs and clubs quietly donate 1 per cent of their pokie earnings to those communities instead.
Local food historians understand the parma came to prominence in the early 1990s, but it's impossible to pinpoint an exact date or pub of origin. The earliest Australian newspaper reference I could find to chicken parmigiana is from a Sydney Morning Herald interview with Warwick Capper in 1992, where the one-time highest-paid footballer in the country orders the dish at Southport RSL with "vegetables, garlic bread and Coke". Good on him.
I understand there's no way chicken parma is leaving pub menus in my lifetime – it has become as Australian as meat pies, Fatty's catch and Huey's suspenders. For the love of Warwick Capper, though, please don't treat your parma as a pizza too. If there's one food worse than chicken parmigiana, it's chicken parmigiana topped with pepperoni.
Callan Boys is the national writer for Good Food.