As a deep-fried post-pub treat with a gut-busting 2,000-plus calories, it is hardly the most sophisticated of delicacies.
But the notorious parmo has become the culinary pride of Middlesbrough – and now a campaign is under way to secure special protected status for the fat-laden treat.
It comprises a plate-sized piece of flattened chicken, coated in breadcrumbs, deep-fried and slathered with bechamel sauce and melted cheddar cheese. And then served with chips.
It is believed the parmo was introduced to the area by Nicos Harris, an American chef who opened a restaurant in Middlesbrough after settling there following the Second World War
While it may horrify dieticians, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, pictured, says it is a ‘Teesside culinary institution’ that deserves recognition
While it may horrify dieticians, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen says it is a ‘Teesside culinary institution’ that deserves recognition.
He and other local leaders have submitted a formal application for the dish to be granted a badge of quality and authenticity called a Traditional Specialities Guarantee (TSG), similar to how Melton Mowbray pork pies are protected.
Mr Houchen said: ‘If the Cornish can be proud of their pasties or the people of Wensleydale passionate about their cheese, why can’t Teessiders be proud of the parmo?
‘This protection will mean when you order a parmo, you get the delicious chicken feast you desire.’
‘HOW many calories?’ I asked the chef. ‘A canny few, like,’ he laughed
By Richard Rayner
IT’S been 20 years since I last tucked into Middlesbrough’s iconic dish, but within a couple of bites I was transported back to parmo paradise.
According to legend, it was first served by Nicos Harris at The American Grill in 1958. Nicos and his restaurant have long since gone, but plenty of places on the same street offer the dish, costing from £6 for a takeaway to £15 for a sit-down meal.
At Olivello restaurant, owner Cemal Ocak has his chefs rustle up not one, but three different varieties of parmo.
‘You’ve come to the right place,’ he says, pointing at the nine parmo combinations on his menu. ‘Middlesbrough is the spiritual home of the parmo.’
As well as the traditional dish of flattened deep-fried chicken covered in melted cheese and bechamel sauce, I try the Ultimate Parmo (with pulled pork, streaky bacon and crispy onions) and the Surf ’n’ Turf (topped with king prawns and garlic butter sauce). It’s not the prettiest dish you’ve ever seen, but the smell and taste are heaven.
Heaving at my waistband, I commend head chef Peter Rafferty for his efforts before asking the million-dollar question: ‘Just how many calories are in each parmo?’
He gives a wry smile, shrugs his shoulders and replies: ‘There’s a canny few, like.’
That’s an understatement. It might take me 20 years to work them off.
If successful, the parmo – which has triple the calories of the deep-fried Mars bar favoured by some Scots – could be offered in takeaways and supermarkets across the country as long as it is made in the traditional way.
Geoff Johns, who supplies local supermarkets with his parmos, said: ‘If parmos get this recognition, it will make the difference in whether or not my business can expand. At the moment, my parmos are only in supermarkets locally and as far south as Leeds, but this quality mark would mean lots of publicity.’
It is believed the parmo was introduced to the area by Nicos Harris, an American chef who opened a restaurant in Middlesbrough after settling there following the Second World War. Inspired by the Italian veal parmigiana, he swapped veal for pork, and later chicken, in 1958.
If the TSG bid succeeds, locals hope it will stop ‘adulterations’ of the traditional recipe such as the use of tomato or chilli sauce.
But not every Teessider is happy to be associated with the dish.
It featured in a Middlesbrough Council marketing campaign this year that included banners saying: ‘We are parmo and chips.’
However, the slogan was slammed as insulting and reducing the town to ‘cheap stereotypes’.
Tosh Warwick, a local historian who is writing the ‘definitive guide’ to parmo, said: ‘While there is a lot of pride in the parmo, it is also decried by many.
‘Celebrities visiting the town either seek it out or have one thrust in front of them, causing joy or despair in equal measure.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice will decide on the bid by TSG.
His department confirmed that the application had been lodged and said a decision would be made within six months.