This is number three of a series on great British dishes. This week we examine the Parmo.
WHAT IS IT?
A flattened chicken breast deep fried in bread crumbs covered in bechamel sauce and cheddar cheese then grilled until melted. Most popular in the town of Middlesbrough in Northeast England. Other versions include ingredients such as chilli or pepperoni
MEANING OF NAME
Short for Chicken parmigiana or Chicken parmesan. The Parmo is easier to say when you're drunk and to spell on menus.
Greek American navy cook Nicos Harris was injured during the second world war and sent to Middlesbrough for treatment. Despite the place being a complete shithole he stayed and opened The American Grill, on Linthorpe Road in 1958. While there he took the American Chicken parmigiana and tweaked the recipe into the Parmo which quickly established itself as the town's signature dish.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE AND POPULARITY
The Parmo is hugely popular in Middlesbrough both as a takeaway meal and a restaurant one.
In fact, they're so popular that Middlesbrough Council ran a £100k campaign to market the city complete with banners saying: ‘We are parmo and chips.’ Unsurprisingly this came under some criticism.
The town has even attempted to get the Parmo "Protected designation of origin status (PTO)" But came under fierce criticism from dieticians and the medical profession thanks to the fact Parmos are usually in excess of 2000 calories.
Despite criticism of the dish it remains hugely popular in Middlesbrough with numerous Facebook and Twitter groups dedicated to swapping reviews of local takeaways.
Middlesbrough has been dubbed the pizza and Parmo capital of the world. An area where many high streets have little to offer except rows of Parmo takeaways and prostitutes.
Outside Middlesbrough, the Parmo never really caught on despite attempts by some traders to introduce them.
GOOD V BAD DISHES
Many health professionals and professional chefs would say there are no good Parmos but it seems clear some definitely look more edible than others. I think the ones with chillis or pepperoni in them look more tempting
Had the Parmo originated in London or Paris it would be held up as an example of fine dining. However, being linked to Middlesbrough has forever tarnished its reputation. TripAdvisor's list of the best things to visit in Middlesbrough has a field outside of the town as number one and it regularly features in "worst place to live" polls.
It's easy to see the Parmo as the victim of the UK's North/south divide but it doesn't quite explain why it never caught on in other northern towns either.
I confess I've never had a takeaway Parmo but I was cooked one by a guy from the area once. I found it to be a waste of good cheese and not particularly exciting although I could see the potential in the hands of a more skilled cook.
Next week, deep fried mars bars.