Part Two: Chicken Marsala
Published on April 05, 2009 at 07:13 PM by Kate Jonuska
So you might wondering what meal would be good enough that I would make homemade noodles for its base. That would be Chicken Marsala, which I deem as too rich for everyday use and label a “special occasion/weekend” meal, and you’re sure to be impressed at how easy it is to make this restaurant-quality, perhaps intimidating meal in your own kitchen in less than 30 minutes. Really. This is date-night food, so chill some white wine. The other great thing about this dish is that it serves as a great introduction to the beauty of deglazing a pan, also known as making a pan sauce. In other words, it’s more of a technique than a recipe, a technique where you can mix and match ingredients and pretty much never go wrong. You simply need a protein (i.e. chicken, pork chops, steak) and a deglazing liquid (usually wine or alcohol, broth/stock, citrus juice or even water, if you’d like), plus whatever other flavors you crave. My chicken will be addressed in a moment, my alcohol is the Marsala mentioned in the recipe title, some pancetta is added for flavor, and what I’m craving? Mushrooms, baby. I have some fresh baby portabellas, which are on the right, straight out of the container. On the left are one of the most miraclest of all miracle pantry ingredients, dried porcini mushrooms. I thought the baby bellas looked good, however, use any mushroom or combination of fresh mushrooms you please here. Or omit them in favor of asparagus, red bell peppers, caramelized onions. Again, whatever you’re craving. But don’t leave out the porcinis! My original recipe calls for 1/2 ounce of porcini. My supermarket sells it in packages of 3/4 ounce, so I throw it all in. Then again, we love the mushroom flavor and if you only like that flavor in moderation, save the remainder for the next time you make Marsala — or as a pizza topping, in pasta, whatever. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the shrooms, and let them sit between 30 minutes and an hour. When you’re ready to drain them, which you’ll probably do when you have a spare moment in the rest of the cooking, RESERVE THE MUSHROOM LIQUID. Yes, I will SCREAM it so you don’t throw that liquid goodness away. The debris and grit in the bottom? Yes, get rid of that, but set the remainder of the liquid aside. Also, you’ll eventually chop the rehydrated mushrooms during a pausing point in the recipe later on. You’ll have four chicken breasts, which you’ll need to smash up. (Smash up or scalloppine, whatever.) Sure, it’s not absolutely necessary, but it makes the chicken all of one thickness. Therefore, it cooks evenly and will all be done at the same time. That’s rather nice. I know there are special tools for scalloppining something, but banging at a saran wrap-covered piece of raw meat with a regular ole soup ladle is kind of fun. Using a specific tool would make it all prim and proper. Wailing away with a soup ladle is more my style. Here, you can see the difference a good smashing makes. The chicken is thinner and more uniform, and now that it’s not so smooth, the flavor will stick to the breast better. Throw some all-purpose flour in a bowl and add salt, pepper and your favorite dried Italian seasoning. I have a blend we bought at the Camp de Fiora in Rome — says the braggart — that I reserve for this kind of thing. Mix up the flour and spice with your fingers. Shake off the excess. You will get brown sticky bits in the bottom of the pan. That’s the point. Don’t worry about. Other things not to worry about include the exact doneness of the chicken. Once you sear both sides, you place the chicken on a plate to reserve and it will continue cooking. Later, you’ll throw it back in for a bit over heat, so now is not the time to cut in looking for pink. While they’re cooking… In the same pan — don’t clean it out, those brown bits are very important to the deglazing process — begin with the pancetta and the onions. Add the fresh and rehydrated mushrooms and all of the liquid. As this mixture starts to simmer, not only will it smell amazing but the hot liquid will pull up all of that caramelized chicken from the bottom of the pan. Help it along with your spatula/spoon, stir it around to dissolve. Once the mushrooms are almost done — after about 5 minutes over medium-high heat — return your chicken to the pan. OK, that has to be my favorite picture of the bunch. I forgot that I had run out of parsley, so I threw in some fresh oregano from my window-sill herb garden. Cover the pan and let the chicken re-heat through, turning them over once. At about 2 minutes if you’re still worried about the chicken, you can cut into a breast to check for doneness. Serve over pasta with a little fresh Parmesan over the top, and voila! Have you ever felt fancier in your life? Or were you not cooking in a high heels and an evening dress? Again, the concentration and complexity of flavor in this dish is worthy of most high-class restaurants, and you just did it in less than 30 minutes at home. Once you taste this sauce and realize how all of the ingredients we used condensed into that rich brown gravy, try out Veal Marsala. Why not? Or use chicken, white wine, red peppers and basil. Or chicken, lemon juice and capers — I think that’s called Picatta? Try a steak and wash out the pan with bourbon, shallots and sage. All you need to do to guarantee greatness is caramelize the meat and then pick up all the brown bits, which the experts call the “fond,” in the bottom of the pan.