I am locked in a perpetual search for new main dish recipes. This weekend, I decided to take on Chicken Marsala from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. There’s a lot of good stuff in that cookbook, and I’m a big fan of their work. I’m also a big fan of mushrooms stewed in wine, so it was a no-brainer. This recipe makes 4 servings. Here’s how it all went down.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt & pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
3 ounces of pancetta, finely minced
8 ounces of button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1 1/2 cups of sweet Marsala wine (see note below)
1 1/2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons of cold butter, cut into 3 pieces
2 tablespoons of minced flat-leaf Italian parsley
Spaghetti, linguine or other pasta, cooked
Start by pre-heating your oven to 300F. You’ll want to keep your chicken cutlets warm while you’re making the sauce.
To prepare the chicken, slice each breast in half horizontally to make two thinner cutlets. If one end is thicker, pound the thick end to make chicken cutlet uniformly thin. Once the chicken is halved and pounded, season each cutlet with salt and pepper and dredge it in flour to coat. In a hot skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil and cook the chicken until golden brown on each side. Place the cooked cutlets in an oven-proof pan, cover lightly with foil and place them in the hot oven to stay warm.
Using the same oil that is already in the skillet, cook the pancetta and sliced mushrooms until they are a deep, gorgeous brown and the pancetta is crispy. Note: I did not mince my pancetta, and I came to regret it. The larger pieces really distracted from the desired texture of the sauce. Don’t be like me. Mince your pancetta into tiny little tidbits. You’ll thank me for it later.
When the pancetta and mushrooms are a gorgeous golden brown, make a well in the center and throw in the garlic and tomato paste. Brown for a few seconds, or until you really start to smell the garlic. Stir together with the mushrooms and pancetta and add the Marsala wine (as soon as you read the following note).
NOTE ON SWEET MARSALA VERSUS DRY MARSALA WINE: The ATK Cookbook clearly says to use sweet Marsala wine. The little Italian man at the liquor store said to use dry Marsala wine. I bought both, thinking I might blend the two. Instead, I convinced myself to use the sweet Marsala, as stated in the cookbook. Big mistake, in my opinion. The final sauce was… well, too sweet. Not at all like the savory Marsala sauce I order in restaurants. Next time, I’m sticking with the little Italian man and using the dry Marsala. As he so wisely stated, “You use the sweet Marsala for tiramisu; you use the dry for marsala in sauces for meat.” Lesson learned? Never argue with an authentic Italian when you’re making Italian food. That seems so clear to me now.
Okay, so once you’ve decided to skip the sweet for the dry Marsala, pour the wine into the pan with the mushrooms. Keeping the heat at medium-high, allow the sauce to cook down until it is reduced by at least half and the wine takes on a syrupy texture. This will take a few minutes, so stir it occasionally and keep an eye on it. Once it’s reduced, add the lemon juice and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and add the cold butter, one piece at a time, whisking it in before adding the next piece. Add the minced parsley and stir it in; add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over the cooked pasta of your choice. I also recommend a nice salad and a warm, crusty baguette. And if you have a lovely bottle of Italian red on hand, well that’s just frosting on the cupcake.
Final Thoughts: this recipe is worth making, with a few minor adjustments. I feel strongly that dry Marsala is the better choice here. And because I like the smooth texture of a Marsala sauce that really showcases the mushrooms, I think I will fry the pancetta and remove it from the pan next time so it will flavor the mushrooms, but not be incorporated in the final sauce. I’m looking forward to trying this again with the dry Marsala, possibly on a grilled sirloin. If you love mushrooms in wine, this one is worthy of a shot at your dinner table. Mangia!