Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicken Marsala

Sometimes I feel like there is a lack of real recipes for "boneless skinless chicken breasts," and frankly, this is the meat that I eat most often. The plus side is that the meat is healthy, but the other side of that is that it can be pretty bland. The technique I see in recipes most often is just a basic saute or grill of a chicken breast with salt and pepper on it. Now, really, can anyone be fooled that that will taste good, no matter what sauce you put on it afterwards?

No. If you want a quick chicken dish for boneless breasts, chicken marsala is the way to go. This is one of my favorite dishes to make, and also one of my favorites to serve at a small dinner party. The recipe is so simple it is magical. The one thing you need that you might not have in your kitchen is a bottle of marsala wine. Marsala is an Italian wine from Sicily that has a sweet taste, and though in Italy it can be used as an aperitif, here it is used as a cooking wine--an excellent one I might add. You can buy it in the grocery store in the "cooking wine" section, or in your local wine store. It shouldn't be too expensive (my grocery store charges $6, and you can make the dish at least 4 times with one bottle). You can store the bottle in your cabinet for a month or two after it has been opened.

This wine is what gives the chicken its unique flavor. In a pinch you can use another white wine, and it will be a good dish, but not as amazing as the marsala.

Here's what you need:

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced horizontally (so they are thin)
1/2 c of flour, for coating
2-3 TBSP olive oil (for sauteing)
1 1/2 c of sliced mushrooms
3/4 c of marsala (eyeball it, see below)
1 TBSP of chopped fresh rosemary (dried is ok too, use half as much)
Salt and pepper to taste

And here's how you make it:

Heat 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. If you don't have one that will fit all 6 halves of the chicken, you will have to work in two skillets at once (you can do it!) or in batches. While the oil is heating up, coat the chicken in flour. When the oil is hot enough, put the chicken in (it should sizzle). Keep the chicken cooking on that side until it is nicely browned and crisped. Like this:

Then flip the chicken. If the skillet needs more oil, add the additional tablespoon (the skillet above needs more, for example). Once the chicken is nicely browned on the other side, throw in the mushrooms, and then add about half of the marsala. The heat should stay on medium here. You will want to push the mushrooms into the marsala every minute or so, because you want them evenly cooked. As the mushrooms start to cook, add the rosemary.

Flip the chicken over after about 2-3 minutes. You will notice it has taken on a "soaked quality" which is exactly what you want, on the side that was underneath. Cook keep cooking the chicken until the sauce boils down until it is thickened (It shouldn't take too long). Try not to turn the chicken again, because the flour will be heavy with the marsala wine, and might fall off. And this means the flavor will fall off as well. Add salt and pepper to your tastes (try the sauce).

As soon as the sauce is thickened, serve it, as is! It should look like this:

Just slide the chicken onto the plate, and pour the mushroom marsala goodness onto it. You're done! It is so fast and so flavorful. Trust me, the ease and taste of this dish will make it part of your weekly rotation.

The keys to this dish are:

1. Once the marsala is in the dish, don't turn the chicken over more than once. This way the coating will stay on the chicken.

2. Wait until the sauce thickens before serving the dish. The thickening happens because of the flour on the chicken, so it will happen, don't worry. (If you really want to speed it up, turn up the heat, but watch it carefully!)

3. Serve immediately. This is not one of those dishes that you want hanging around for 15 minutes in the pan. However, if your timing is off (mine always is) and the potatoes still aren't cooked or something, leave it in the pan and just before serving add a tad more marsala, and turn on the heat again. When the added marsala is thickened, serve.

Chicken breasts are no longer boring. Thank you Sicily!

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