My mother, so talented at a lot of things, wasn’t much of a cook. We always had plenty to eat, but it wasn’t very inspired. When I was about 13 I grabbed one of the two cookbooks my mother owned and decided to make a spaghetti sauce recipe. We had to buy some ingredients because my mother seldom used any seasoning beyond salt and pepper. I carefully measured everything and created a spaghetti sauce that was amazing. Up until this point a can of tomato sauce poured over squishy spaghetti was a real treat. That was the day I learned how much adding herbs could improve ordinary foods.
When you saute a chicken breast, seasoned with salt and pepper, it is good, but nothing special. Add a few herbs, a splash of white wine, and all of a sudden you have a restaurant specialty. In a recent article from Organic Authority they talked about the difference between herbs and spices. To get familiar with the flavors and aromas of various herbs and spices, they suggest you mix them into a bit of butter, yogurt, or cream cheese and let it sit for about an hour. Then taste it on a cracker. This is a wonderful (and inexpensive) way to figure out which flavors you like and try ingredients that are new to you.
Cooking with wine is another great way to enhance flavors and today’s recipe is a perfect example. Made with Marsala wine, it is easy to make, rich, creamy, and ultimately satisfying. I often order it in restaurants when it is on the menu. When you talk about quintessential Italian meals, this is one of the all time favorites.
Originally made with veal, I serve it with chicken because I don’t believe that we should support the inhumane treatment of the calves raised for veal consumption. In order to produce extra tender meat, they prohibit movement of the calves and keep them in cages. You can use whichever protein you prefer.
Marsala is a fortified wine made in the northwest part of Sicily. In the 1700’s when armadas of ships sailed the seas, the only way to keep wine from spoiling on the long voyages was to add hard liquor. In those days brandy was the alcohol most often used. It comes in two forms, Dry and Sweet. For this recipe, make sure you use the sweet version. You can usually find it in the same area with the port and sherry.
I like to pour this over cooked pasta, but you can also serve it on its own. I don’t think you need any Parmesan cheese, but a lot of people like it so I added it as an optional ingredient. No matter how you decide to serve it, you will love this luscious meal.
Kitchen Skill: Pounding Meats
Why: To get all cuts to an even thickness which lets them cook at the same rate.
How: Cut the top off of a freezer zip-top bag and slit down the side and bottom so you have a flat piece of plastic. Place the chicken breasts on a cutting board and using the smooth side of a meat pounder, pound breasts until even. Instead of hitting straight down, use a slight swinging action, starting at the thickest portion and moving toward the thinner edge.
If breasts are very thick, it is easier to cut them in half horizontally 3/4 of the way through (butterflied) and fold open like a book. Pound uncut side if still needed.
Original recipe from Tyler Florence; modified by Jane Evans Bonacci
Yield: 4 servings
4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1-1/2 lb)
All-purpose flour, for dredging
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto or small dice of pancetta or unsmoked bacon
8 oz crimini, porcini, or white button mushrooms, stems discarded
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced or 1/4 of a small onion, finely minced
3/4 cup sweet (not dry!) Marsala wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
3 tbsp heavy cream, optional
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 lb cooked pasta such as fettuccine, linguine, penne, or rigatoni
Finely grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Preheat oven to 200°F.
Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and lay a piece of heavy-duty plastic wrap over them (use a zip-top bag for the best results). Pound with a flat meat mallet until they are about 1/4-inch thick. Put some flour in a shallow platter and season with a fair amount of salt and pepper; mix with a fork to distribute evenly.
Cut smaller mushrooms in half, larger mushrooms in quarters. You want them to stay chunky during cooking.
Heat the oil over medium-high flame in a large skillet. When the oil is nice and hot, dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. Slip the cutlets into the pan and fry for 5 minutes on each side until golden, turning once – do this in batches if the pieces don’t fit comfortably in the pan. Remove the chicken to a baking sheet in a single layer and place in oven to keep warm. At this point you can cut the chicken into strips or chunks if you prefer, for easier serving. (Cut into bite-sized pieces if you are serving at a party to make it easier for your guests to eat.)
Lower the heat to medium and add the prosciutto to the drippings in the pan, saute for 1 minute to render some of the fat. Now, add the mushrooms and shallot and saute until the mushrooms are nicely browned and their moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the Marsala in the pan and boil down for a few seconds to cook out most of the alcohol. Add the chicken stock and cream, and simmer for 3 minutes to reduce the sauce slightly.
Stir in the butter and return the chicken to the pan; add any accumulated drippings from the baking sheet. Simmer gently for 1 minute to heat the chicken through. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over cooked pasta and garnish with chopped parsley. Pass Parmesan cheese at the table if desired.
Unauthorized use, distribution, and/or duplication of proprietary material without prior approval is prohibited. I can be contacted via email at: heritagecook (at) comcast (dot) net. Feel free to quote me, just give credit where credit is due, link to the recipe, and please send people to my website, www.theheritagecook.com.