Chicken Marsala

I’ve been trying to get some of my pan sauce recipes online lately so the wife can cook them when I’m not around. Chicken Marsala is her favorite.

I’ve recently prepared a mushroom burgundy sauce, some veal picatta, and I’m planning to make some chicken saltimbocca (which is very similar to chicken prosciutto). I have different blog posts for each of these recipes, but all of these dishes are essentially the same. Sure, you substitute different meats, wines and flavors of stock, but you basically recycle the cooking process… pound the meat down to 3/8 of an inch or less, season with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, fry in olive oil/butter mixture, sauté garlic and shallots, deglaze the pan with wine, add stock, reduce sauce and serve. If you want to make the sauce richer, you add a pat of butter. If the sauce is too rich, you dilute it with a little cream. You can add all kinds of additional ingredients like herbs, vegetables and fruit, but the basic cooking process is redundant. It’s the culinary equivalent of pairing different colored shirts and shoes with the same gray suit. You’re wearing pretty much the same thing you did yesterday, but your outfit looks totally different to everyone else.

These dishes are easy to cook, taste delicious, and never fail to impress when served to dinner guests. Here’s everything you need for this iteration:

Chicken Marsala

  • 1 pound (or less) chicken breast, pounded thin
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup marsala wine
  • 1½ cups button or crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • all-purpose flour for dredging
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chopped chives to garnish

To make this dish, you must use real marsala wine. If you buy that little bottle of marsala cooking wine in grocery store, you’ve already failed. Run to the liquor store and buy a bottle of the real thing. Marsala is a fortified wine, so it’ll last about a year in the fridge. The bottle in the picture above cost me $6. I’ve paid up to $15 for really good marsala before. It did in fact taste better than the cheaper stuff, but what’s most important is that you buy the real thing.

Chicken can disintegrate when flattened too much. I usually just buy the pre-sliced chicken cutlets at the store and tenderize them a little at home. If I was having people over and wanted to impress them, I’d buy whole, boneless, skinless breasts, butterfly them, and flatten them gently with my fist. The chicken fillets would be huge and hard to work with, but they’d look and taste really good. Either way you do it, you begin by seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper. Next, dredge the cutlets in flour and shake off the excess.

Heat two tablespoons each of olive oil and unsalted butter over medium/medium-high heat. Cook the chicken pieces until they’re brown around the edges. They’ll finish cooking later in the sauce.

Let them rest under foil on a plate so you can keep them warm and reserve whatever juices accumulate.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and add the mushrooms to the pan. Toss them while they soak up all oil and butter so they coat evenly. Resist the urge to add more oil and butter and leave them alone long enough to turn golden brown around the edges. When they’ve gotten some color, add a big pinch of salt and shake well.

When the mushroom start to release their juices (and expel the olive oil), add the minced garlic and shallot and a pinch of freshly ground pepper. Don’t walk away. As soon as the garlic starts to brown, deglaze the pan with the wine. Once the bottom has been scraped clean, add the chicken stock and stir to incorporate. When the liquid has reduced by about a third, turn the heat down to medium/medium-low and return the chicken (and juices) back to the pan.

It takes experience to know when the sauce is done. It took me a long time to learn that when the meat is in the pan, it looks like you still have a lot of liquid left to reduce. You don’t. Also, the simmering bubbles make the liquid look more thin than it is in reality. You need to take the meat out of the pan to finish the sauce. The trick is to keep testing the stickiness/thickness of the liquid. Dip a wooden spoon in the sauce and see how much sticks to the back. If you can run your finger across the liquid and your mark remains clean when you shake the spoon, the sauce is done. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It can cook down too much, so err on the side of thinness, if that makes sense.

Remove the marsala sauce from the heat and pour over the chicken. Garnish with fresh chives and serve immediately.

Much to my dismay, the wife’s not too fond of mushrooms. It’s a texture thing. But in this particular case, it means I get to hog all the toppings.

Chicken Marsala
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