Chicken Marsala is one of those iconic dishes that everyone knows and loves, and guess what? It actually is Italian, unlike most of the other “Italian” dishes we Americans love. This is a meal that is simple in preparation, and could easily be adjusted to feed 2 people or 12 people. I like to make this for our Sunday family dinners because of those exact reasons. With that in mind, you can actually make most of this recipe in advance, at least up through the mushrooms, and then just make the sauce and heat everything through right before you are going to eat. The chicken is quickly cooked in the sauce right before serving, so that will heat it and the mushrooms through. Just food for thought (pun intended) in case you ever want to do something like that. I usually do, because I never know when I am going to get a free moment having a 4 month old daughter. So I tend to take advantage of those free moments when they do come.
Chicken Marsala is made with chicken cutlets, dredged in flour and sauteed, then served with sauteed mushrooms and a Marsala reduction sauce made from – you guessed it – Marsala wine. Marsala wine is a fortified wine from the town of Marsala, on the western coast of Sicily.
It is a fortified wine, meaning that it is mixed with another type of distilled alcohol – typically Brandy – for preservation purposes. At least it used to be done for preservation purposes, as Sailors discovered that fortified wines tended to last longer at sea, and what good is a sailor without his drink? I’m speaking from experience, as I used to be one – unfortunately the days of having booze on ships are long gone. Unless maybe you are a chief, which I was not. The Chiefs really do run the boats, nobody messes with them – not even the officers – and we always just heard rumors of those things. It wouldn’t surprise me though if they had a couple of bottles of booze stashed where they ate – the Chiefs Mess (aka Goat Locker).
Anyway, I digress. Marsala wine is sweet in taste, and is used to add richness to many traditional Italian desserts, or it is consumed as a dessert wine. It is used in several dishes, but perhaps none that are more popular than Chicken Marsala. So let’s get to making it then. Roll that beautiful bean footage.
This recipe is tailored to serve 2-3 people, but can easily be doubled, tripled, etc. If you do, you may have to account for some longer cooking times to reduce the wine, but it won’t be too great of a difference.
You will need 2 boneless / skinless chicken breasts, 1/3 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of salt and pepper, 1 (8 ounce) container of mushrooms (I used baby bella – any kind of mushrooms will do), 3/4 cup of Marsala wine, 1/2 cup of chicken broth and 2 tablespoons of butter.
There is some level of debate within the culinary community over whether to use sweet or dry Marsala wine in this recipe. Some argue for dry, because the sweet variants are used in dessert making, and chicken is not a dessert (dessert chicken would be interesting to see, however). Others advocate for the sweet Marsala wine, because that is what gives it its more characteristic taste. I have never seen any one definitive conclusion reached. I’ve tried both on multiple occasions, before swearing to myself to never give the dry Marsala wine another try. It is really that different. Sweet Marsala it is for me, but to each their own. Give both a try sometime, if you’d like, and see what conclusion you reach.
Start off by slicing your mushrooms thinly. Some people like to remove the stems, and I do that for certain recipes. Here, however, I like to keep them on – it gives the mushrooms a more rustic appeal, I think. So, slice them up and set them aside.
Take your 2 chicken breasts and slice them in half, like so.
Then, taking one cutlet at a time, place the cutlet in between a piece of folded over wax paper and pound it flat. I mean, the cutlet is already largely flar, but this only takes about 2 minutes and makes the chicken much more uniform in size and tender as well. It is all about presentation with this dish – as you will see – so wider, thinner pieces look better and will cook more evenly too. This will prevent a thinner part of your unpounded chicken from overcooking and drying out while it was waiting for the thicker part to finish cooking.
Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.
Now here is my clever little trick for the dredging stage. Dredging is the act of taking a piece of meat and flipping in over a few times in plate-full of flour to coat it on all sides before pan-frying. Most recipes will tell you to place flour in a wide, flat dish, dredge the cutlets in it, then set aside for a few minutes to allow the flour to fully adhere before frying. This seems unnecessarily complicated. Why dirty up 2 plates when you could just throw everything into a plastic bag, seal it up (only had to forget that ONCE before I began to automatically remember) and shake, shake, shake.
Then, all you have to do is remove each piece as you need it, give it a quick shake in the bag and fry it up in the pan. Throw the bag away afterwards. Tada! Easier cleanup. My wife kissed me for that one.
Heat a pan over medium heat, and add a swirl of olive oil. Some recipes use butter, some use a mix of butter. I say use olive oil. You can use whatever you want, though.
Fry the cutlets oer medium heat for 2-3 minutes per side, then flip and repeat. Don’t crowd the pan – it will lower the cooking temperature and steam your chicken more than fry it. 2 batches was all I needed to cook the chicken.
Set the chicken aside for later. Don’t worry about it getting cold – you don’t need to keep this heated in an oven while you finish the meal – it is going to cook and reheat in the sauce anyway.
See this? That leftover crud in the pan from frying up the cutlets? It actually has a name, and that name is fond. Fond is the browned, leftover bits of flour and fat that will add incredible depths of flavor to your final sauce. In other words – DON’T CLEAN OUT THE PAN.
Instead, just dump your mushrooms in. Cook them over medium heat for a few minutes.
They will begin to look like this. Almost there.
A few minutes later and you are there.
Pour in your wine and chicken broth, turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
Continue boiling until the mixture has reduced by about 1/2 of the total liquid you began with.
That’s about right.
Now, add your chicken cutlets back in, keeping the heat on medium-high, and heat through 1-2 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a platter.
TAKE THE PAN OFF OF THE HEAT. That part is important, because you are going to whisk the butter through the reduced sauce to thicken it up. Since it has been boiling, the temperature of the sauce has been above 212 degrees fahrenheit. The milk fat and milk solids in butter will begin destabilizing at 160 degrees and separate completely at about 190 degrees. When that happens the butter will not thicken the sauce as we want it to, but will make it runny and disorganized instead. In order to prevent that from happening, remove the pan from the heat for about 30-60 seconds, then whisk the butter into the sauce. It should thicken up and look glossy and delicious.
The rich sweetness of this sauce is one of the few sauces I would actually agree with adding pepper to, as I normally am morally against that kind of thing. The pungent bitterness of the peppercorns helps to balance out those flavors quite well, I think, and should be added at the end, to taste. Maybe a little salt as well. I went with about 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, and even less salt. I tasted it first to make sure. Always taste and adjust seasonings sparingly. You can always add more. You usually can never take excess seasoning out.
Pour the sauce over the chicken cutlets and serve.
- 2 boneless / skinless chicken breasts
- ⅓ cup flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 1 (8 ounce) container of mushrooms
- ¾ cup Marsala wine
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Thinly slice the mushrooms. Set aside.
- Slice the chicken breasts in half. Pound each cutlet flat between a piece of parchment paper with a meat mallet or rolling pin.
- Place the pounded chicken, salt, pepper and flour inside a sealable plastic bag. Shake to coat.
- Heat a pan over medium heat. Add a swirl of olive oil to coat the pan.
- Add the dredged chicken cutlets to the pan and fry 2-3 minutes on one side, then flip and cook 2-3 minutes more. Remove and set aside.
- Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan, stirring to incorporate the leftover fond. cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring and flipping occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to release their own liquids. If they don't, add a little tab of butter to them and they will release then.
- Pour in the wine and broth, turn the heat to medium-high and reduce the liquid by ½.
- Add the chicken cutlets back into the pan with the sauce and continue cooking over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes per side. Remove the chicken and place onto a serving platter.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool for about 30 seconds. Swirl in the tablespoons of butter until the sauce thickens and has a glossy sheen. Season to taste with pepper and maybe a little salt. Pour over the chicken cutlets and serve.