Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pollo alla Marsala (Chicken Marsala)

The namesake of Pollo alla Marsala, or Chicken Marsala, is Marsala wine.  I've used the wine in my cooking, adding it to dishes as the recipe would require, but I never took the time to understand and appreciate the wine.  So, when I decided to make Chicken Marsala as the main course of a Christmas party for some friends, I decided that I would take the time to learn about and understand the key ingredient to this ubiquitous dish.

One could say that Marsala is Italy's version of Port, Sherry or Madeira, but, other than the fact that Marsala is a fortified wine like Port, that would be a gross oversimplification. Marsala originated in the town, aptly named Marsala, which is located in western Sicily. Local producers make Marsala from Grillo grapes, as well as Catarrato and Inzolia grapes.  These are white grapes and produce an amber or golden Marsala.  Producers add  local red grapes -- such as Nero d'Avola, Calabrese and Pignatello grapes -- to make Marsala wine that is red in color.  

Producers classify Marsala wine by age, alcohol content, color and flavor.  The most common classification is Fine, which is aged for one year.  Marsala Fine is ordinarily used for cooking.  By contrast, Marsala Superiore Riserva is the type of Marsala wine that would be served as an aperitif or used in deserts.  And, then there are the vintage blends, like Vergine Soleras and Vergine Stravecchio.  But that would best be left for another post.

Returning to the recipe, Chicken Marsala seems to be everywhere.  Most Italian restaurants have this dish on their menu and I have had it at a lot of restaurants.  Few of the Chicken Marsala dishes that I've had have been memorable; more often than not, they were pedestrian.  My goal was to try to make a memorable Chicken Marsala dish without having to use an expensive bottle of Marsala. I made this dish for a party of more than twelve people and decided to serve it family-style, so the picture shows a lot more food than the recipe will produce. 

Adapted from Tyler Florence's recipe
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds of skinless chicken breasts
1/4 pound of Proscuitto di Parma, thinly sliced
1/4 pound of porcini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup of Marsala wine
1/2 cup of chicken stock
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
All purpose flour, for dredging
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste

1.  Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and lay a piece of plastic wrap over them.  Using the flat part of a meat mallet (or a rolling pin) and flatten the chicken until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  (As an alternative, most stores sell thin-cut chicken breasts, and you can use those without having to go through the process of flattening them.)

2. Put some flour in a small bowl and season it with the dried thyme, crushed red pepper, salt and ground pepper, then mix it thoroughly.

3.  Heat the oil over medium high in a large skillet.  Dredge the chicken cutlets on both sides in the flour and then add them to the skillet.  Add enough so that they fit comfortably in the skillet.  Do not overcrowd the chicken.  You can do multiple batches if necessary.  Fry each piece of chicken for five minutes on each side until golden, turning once.

4.  Remove all of the chicken to a large platter, in a single layer to keep warm.

5.  Lower the heat to medium and add the prosciutto to the drippings in then pan.  Saute for about a minute to render out some of the fat.  Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the mushrooms are browned and have lost their moisture. Season with salt and pepper, and a little more dried thyme if you desire.

6.  Pour the Marsala into the pan and boil down for a couple of minutes to cook out the alcohol.  Add the chicken stock and continue to simmer to reduce the sauce slightly.  Add the butter, and stir until it is incorporated into the sauce.

7.  Add the chicken to heat it through.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Serve the chicken immediately, topped with a little chopped parsley. 


For more about Marsala wine, check out Wikipedia.


Molly said...

Keith, this was delicious!

Keith Bolek said...

Thanks, Molly. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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