Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

At my old restaurant we served a lot of chicken and veal Marsala. When the sauté cook put a Marsala dish under the heat lamps, the waft of the sweet and rich brown sauce always got my stomach growling. Unlike this recipe, we didn’t make our Marsala dishes with cream. I got that idea from Elise at Simply Recipes — an excellent cooking blog. Surprisingly, even the usually traditional Marcella Hazan, in More Classic Italian Cooking (out of print, but now part of her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking), likes adding cream, saying it “softens some of the Marsala’s impact while robbing it of none of its flavor.” I agree.

Marsala is a fortified wine from the town of Marsala in western Sicily. Fortified wines, like Marsala, port and sherry, are those to which brandy, or some other spirit, has been added during production. Sweet Marsala is served as a dessert wine or used in desserts, like zabaglione, a light foamy custard made with eggs, Marsala and sugar, similar to the French sabayon. Dry Marsala is an aperitif or used for savory dishes, like this one.

I only had a little time to make this the other night because I was attending an association happy hour and wouldn’t get home until right before dinner. To make it easy on myself, I pounded the chicken and chopped the bacon and vegetables ahead of time. Dinner was delicious. Since I now have a bottle of Marsala in the cabinet, I will definitely be making it again, and looking for other Marsala recipes.

chicken marsala recipe

flickr photo by jeffreyw

Chicken Marsala

  • 2 slices (about 2 oz) of bacon, chopped – or pancetta
  • Olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 to 1.5# boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Flour for dredging
  • Salt, pepper and dried oregano
  • ¾ cup dry Marsala wine — if you can only find sweet Marsala, use that instead.
  • 6 Tbsp heavy cream – I used half and half.
  • Optional – chicken broth
  • Fresh oregano or sage, chopped

Pound each chicken breast between plastic wrap until it’s ½” or less in thickness. I have a rubber mallet that I bought at Ikea for furniture assembly that now lives in the utensil drawer, but you could use (carefully!) a wine bottle if you don’t have meat pounder. Set aside.

Cook the bacon until lightly brown and crisp. Transfer to a dish, but leave remaining fat in the pan. Add a little olive oil if necessary and then the onion and mushrooms. Sauté until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are slightly brown, about 5-10 minutes depending on your heat. About a minute before they’re finished cooking, add the garlic and cook until golden. Transfer to the bacon dish, leaving any fat in the pan. Add more oil if needed for the chicken.

Place flour in a bowl or plate and add the salt, pepper and dried oregano. Dry the chicken breasts. Cut them in half or thirds if they are too large to handle, or if you’d prefer smaller pieces. Dredge both sides of each piece in the seasoned flour, shake off the excess and place in the pan on medium-high heat. If the pieces don’t all fit, put some aside for a second batch, don’t crowd them.

Sauté the chicken, browning both sides. Only turn them once. If they’re real thin, this will only take a few minutes per side.  Transfer to the bacon/onion dish and cook the second batch if you have one.

Add Marsala to your hot pan and scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until it’s reduced by a quarter. Stir in the cream and boil until it’s nicely thickened. Sometimes the cream might coagulate. Don’t worry, once you add the chicken and everything else back to the pan, the sauce usually gets back together. Or you can add a pat of butter to help. If you want to increase the sauce, you can add more Marsala and cream, or you can add some chicken broth.

Return the chicken, bacon, onion and everything else back to the pan. Turn the chicken over to coat it and let it reheat for about 30 seconds to a minute.

Plate the chicken, spoon some sauce over it and sprinkle with some fresh oregano or sage. Serve with polenta or pasta. I made some shell pasta and tossed it with butter, black pepper and thyme.

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