A boneless breast of chicken pounded a la scaloppini, seasoned, breaded, and pan-fried in olive oil and butter is a thing of beauty. But when ignited with a splash of intense Marsala wine and infused with garlic and mushrooms, these ingredients come together in a masterful Chicken Marsala that defines old-school Italian cooking for me.
So what’s the Louisiana connection to this dish? Except for the cast-iron skillet and a bit of Cajun spice, not much. But you could draw a parallel between the rich, panéed meat dishes and smothered cast-iron classics of our Cajun recipe playbook. Or you could point to the generational Sicilian heritage of many who live in South Louisiana. Truth is, the method used in this dish is at home in the Acadiana kitchen, but the ingredients (mushrooms and Marsala) explore new tastes. And isn’t that what cooking is all about?
The key to this dish is the wine that produces a sweet, smoky glaze-like sauce. Fortified wines and liqueurs are the hidden secrets of chefs and home cooks worldwide. I’ve cooked with them for years, and you can see their influence in many of my recipes like Wild Goose in Red Wine Gravy, or my Soup Bone Osso Buco, or even my Stuffed Chicken in Mushroom Madeira. In my focus on the cooking of the South, I tend to think globally and borrow techniques and ingredients to infuse my recipes using the indigenous ingredients I find close to home.
Whenever I see the word “Marsala” on a menu, it grabs my attention. Not sure why, but I get a romantic feel of red-checkered tablecloth Italian-American eateries with a little white-haired nonna serving up large bowls of pasta and basket-encased bottles of Chianti all to the soundtrack of Louis Prima singing Buona Sera. But truth be told, it’s the distinctive flavors of this cooking wine that hails from its namesake town in Sicily that draws me in every time.
Like port and sherry, Marsala is a fortified wine in which another spirit has been added to boost the alcohol content. While some Marsala wines are aged for up to ten years, most used for cooking are not. Some of these wines tend to be on the overly sweet side, so look for a dry Marsala that delivers a smoky, nutty flavor profile that I find irresistible in savory dishes like this one.
There was a time that veal Marsala was the defining dish on most southern Italian menus, and these days a chicken version has become even more prevalent. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of these Marsala-infused dishes with mostly good results. Not southern Italy, but it was a remarkable evening in a little ristorante in southern California that I had the defining chicken Marsala of my life.
Vitello’s in Studio City is a supper club restaurant that feeds a hungry neighborhood crowd. I’ve been coming to this little joint for years, and now that my daughter lives in Los Angeles, it has become a must-visit when I come to the Valley. This contemporary kitchen does all the Italian classics while staying true to old-world tastes and methods. I applaud their attention to detail.
Give this recipe a try, explore the flavors of Marsala, and bring out the Italian lover in you.
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup dry Marsala wine
- 1 packet unflavored powdered gelatin (optional, see Notes)
- 4 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms, such as button or portobello
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion or shallots
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 cup thickly sliced yellow squash (optional)
- 1 cup thickly sliced zucchini (optional)
- 1 cup chopped carrot (optional)
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound cooked linguine noodles tossed with olive oil
- Combine the chicken stock and Marsala wine in a mixing bowl, and sprinkle in the packet of gelatin. Stir and let sit at room temperature until ready to use.
- Place each chicken breast between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a kitchen mallet (or a small saucepan) until about ½-inch thick. Season the flour and lightly coat each chicken breast with flour; shake off any excess.
- In a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and butter. Once sizzling, add the chicken and cook until just browned on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove to a platter and keep warm.
- In the remaining grease, add the mushrooms and cook until they are browned, about 8 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion turns translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the stock and wine mixture (spoon out any gelatin in the bowl) and deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pan. Boil the liquid for 3 minutes to remove some of the alcohol and lower to a simmer. Add the squash, zucchini, carrot, and parsley, and cook until the sauce reduces by half and begins to thicken, about 8 minutes.
- Return the partially cooked chicken to the pan. Lightly sprinkle the pan with Parmesan cheese. Continue to simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Stir in the butter to add a finishing sheen to the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve on a platter family-style or plated individually. Serve with noodles on the side.
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