It’s the day before the release of his new movie The Wannabe, which he wrote and directed (and appears in for a few all-too-brief moments), and actor Nick Sandow is in the kitchen of his Brooklyn townhouse making chicken Parmesan. Last night was the premiere of the film—a wonderfully twisted love letter to the gangster film genre—and he’s somewhat groggy. But it’s a dish that his eldest son Sasha adores and he knows that if it’s served up for dinner later that night, the thirteen year old—and his other son Sterling, who is six—will be more than a little bit excited. “It’s his thing,” explains his glamorous, Spanish-born partner, Tamara Malkin-Stuart, an artist, who sits nearby at the kitchen table, tapping away at her laptop. “There is something about the way he makes it, it’s never heavy, it’s almost light,” she says with a shrug.
Sandow, who is best known for his role as the gruff prison administrator Joe Caputo in the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black, credits his mother, Mae, for his parm prowess. “Cooking for her family was very important to her, and this was a special occasion dish that’d she’d make for us,” he says, dropping a handful of shredded cheese, then a sprinkling of chopped parsley, onto a plate of breadcrumbs. “Once I started having kids, I got really into making all of the meals she used to make for me when I was growing up. I wanted my boys to have that experience of enjoying these family recipes. I hope they cook the same things someday.”
While his Bedlington Terrier, Mingus, waits for scraps to fall at his feet, Sandow prepares the meal with the sort of ease that comes with a dish that’s become, over time, second nature. “I love cooking for my family, and at dinner we all come together. Whether we’re cooking or not, we sit down and talk about our day. We make it happen.”
Sandow likes to use a store-bought sauce called Uncle Steve’s that's made by his friend, actor and The Sopranos star Steve Schirripa, as a shortcut: “It's not sweet, and it’s very close to what my mother used to make.” And he reaches for ground white pepper rather than black “because that is what they do in the Frankie’s Spuntino cookbook, and I really like their cooking,” he says of the neighborhood restaurant he frequents, which published a book a few years ago. When it comes to breadcrumbs, he buys the already-seasoned 4C brand because “that was what my mother did, and some things you just don’t mess with.” Finally, he is emphatic about using chicken breasts that are pounded thin—he buys twelve at a time at Esposito’s, the butcher around the corner, and “I tell them to really beat them up.” The whole dish is made in a deep cast iron pan on the stovetop, which makes it all a fairly easy affair.
You can follow Sandow’s beyond-delicious Chicken Parmesan recipe below, which makes enough for four hungry people, plus leftovers for the next day (the video right after the ingredients list also gives you the step-by-step in one minute). Our advice? Make it before going see The Wannabe, which opens tonight in theaters and can also be viewed on video-on-demand.
Nick Sandow’s Chicken Parmesan
¼ cup olive oil
3 cups store-bought breadcrumbs
½ cup Italian flat parsley, chopped (plus more for garnish)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
ground white pepper
12 chicken cutlets, pounded thin
2 25 oz jars tomato sauce (he uses about a jar and a half)
1 medium sized fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thin.
1. On a plate, combine the breadcrumbs, fresh parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese. Toss to integrate the ingredients; set aside.
2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the eggs.
3. Dip each of the chicken breasts in the egg mixture and then place on the plate of breadcrumbs, pressing each side so that they are well coated. Transfer each coated breast to a plate until all twelve are covered in breadcrumbs.
4. Heat olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, place 3 or 4 cutlets into the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper (the cutlets should be about halfway submerged in the oil, so add a bit more if necessary to get the right ratio). Lower the heat to medium and gently fry the cutlets until they are golden brown on each side, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. After each cutlet is cooked through, place it on a plate or baking sheet lined with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
5 .When all of the cutlets are cooked, remove the pan from the flame; use a paper towel to wipe most of the oil out of the pan.
6. Put the pan on a low flame; drizzle a thin layer of tomato sauce into the pan. Then place about 3-4 cutlets down; layer 4 or 5 thin slices of cheese on top. Drizzle again with tomato sauce. Continue to create layers of chicken, cheese and sauce, ending with a layer of cheese on top.
7 .Cover with a lid and let it cook on a low simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and serve, sprinkling each cutlet with a bit of chopped parsley.