CLASSIC pasta chicken marsala

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This is a staple of our house, chicken breasts with Marsala. We evolved this recipe from our original forays with the always fabulous veal scallopine. In fact, as an historical note, veal scallopine was the first dish that Marcella Hazan taught me to do, all too many years ago, as she was writing The Classic Italian Cook Book.

This dish evolved because veal was a lot more expensive than chicken!

We want to share our version of this oft-used recipe. But before we do, we have to confess that we googled "chicken marsala". and discovered a torrent of entries. One site is simply "chickenmarsala.com". Italian Chef, All Recipes, and of course The Food Network, all have versions. One site, "cooks.com", yielded hundreds (I think, I quit counting) recipes all for chicken marsala.

Undaunted by the avalanche, here is one we have had nothing but the greatest success with (and it really is simple):

Ingredients:

  • six veal cutlets, about 2 1/2 ounces each, cut with the grain
  • four chicken breasts, about a pound m(see note)
  • three tablespoons butter, to start
  • three tablespoons vegetable oil
  • about a half cup of flour
  • salt and pepper
  • some chopped parsley (couple of tablespoons)

This gets us started. Spread the flour on some waxed paper. Add salt and pepper. Put the oil and butter in a saute pan (equipped with a lid to use eventually). Medium high heat. When the oil is hot, roll the chicken breasts in the flour, shake off the excess, and put in the saute pan, which should be large enough to hold the chicken breasts without overlapping.

Brown the chicken breasts, usually about three minutes a side, and then cover then and turn the heat to medium. This is because we find that the chicken breasts cook more evenly (not getting too brown, or even burnt, on the outside) under cover.

Watch the chicken breasts closely. Ideal: take them out of the pan just before they are completely done -- showing a touch of pink. Worst case is to overdue the chicken: tough and tasteless. When done, remove the chicken breasts to a plate and keep warm in the oven.

Note: we do not pound the chicken breasts. We like them in their full, fat glory. And let's face it, we always seem to get different sizes and shapes. Sometimes this requires cutting the chicken breasts in half -- sliced down the middle. Sometimes we have to "remove" the extra pieces, the little pieces dangling off the side of the main piece of meat (but we still cook them as above, taking them out of the saute pan much earlier. Whatever works -- ideally we get free-range, organic chicken breasts, skinned, deboned, and halved, and quite thick, and go from there

Now the sauce: 

  • twelve large sage leaves
  • four tablespoons of butter
  • one quarter cup white wine
  • one quarter cup marsala
  • one quarter cup chicken stock
  • couple of tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • one teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (optional)
  • one half cup mushrooms, sliced thin (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

First: drain the saute pan of the fat accumulated. This is key. It is necessary to drain all the fat but certainly do not drain the wonderful brown bits and stickings from the sauteeing. But get rid of most of the fat -- otherwise you get a fatty sauce.

Turn the heat to high. When hot, add the butter. As soon as it starts to melt, add the white wine which should steam and immediately deglaze the pan. Add the marsala. Add a half teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Stir. You do not want to get the sauce too thick. But you do not want soup either. Probably you will need to add the chicken broth to get the right fluidity.

When the sauce is just the right consistency, bring back the chicken breasts and add them to the pan, including any juices. Turn the breasts over a couple of times in the sauce to get them well coated.

If the sauce is too runny, add more butter.

Serve, putting the chicken breasts on the warmed plate, spoon the sauce over, and add a touch of parsley for garnish.

On the oregano option, just add it after the marsala.

On mushrooms: we do not ordinarily add mushrooms, but they can be delightful. As soon as yoiu add the marsala, add the mushrooms. They shoukd be done just right as the sauce thickens. (some recipes call for a cup or two or three of mushrooms, which we think is overkill, taking away from the great chicken-marsala combination.

Remember: watch the chicken carefully as you initially saute it (checking by cutting into it with a sharp knife). Do not overcook. And get rid of all the fats in the saute pan before starting the sauce.


 

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