Chicken Marsala is one of those recipes that is so perfectly balanced and so richly flavored, that I thought it would be difficult to make, so I never tried. Until tonight. I read through a bunch of different recipes and made up my own version with ingredients that I thought would give me the best shot at the classic recipe as served in the Chicago area in the 70's. Sadly, I can't find that in restaurants any more. When ordering it recently, I'm disappointed to find that they've used different wines or white button mushrooms or added sugar (???).
In making it, I'm delighted to find that it's actually one of the EASIEST and QUICKEST recipes ever. It's a 30 minute meal. Yes. Really. The key is two ingredients which can not be substituted or eliminated: dry marsala wine and crimini mushrooms (baby portabellas); and a couple of SIMPLE techniques.
Technique 1: Butterfly-ing the chicken breast. I didn't take photos of the process because my hands would be in contact with raw chicken and therefore my camera would be slimed. Not worth it. Read on:
If you look at a boneless, skinless chicken breast, one side is rounded and smooth and the other side is flatter and slightly rough. Place a chicken breast rounded side up on a cutting board, place your non-dominant hand flat on it. Look and see exactly where all your fingers are and with the knife blade parallel to the cutting board, slowly and carefully cut the chicken breast horizontially almost all the way through, then fold it open like butterfly wings. If you cut it all the way through, you have made cutlets, which also work very well for this recipe.
Technique 2: Pounding (great stress reliever!)
Put one butterflied breast into a gallon size ziptop bag and leave the bag open. If you seal the bag, it will burst in the next step and spew chicken juice. So, yeah, leave it open.
Combine flour, and a generous amount of salt and pepper in a wide shallow bowl. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat. After pounding the breasts, dredge them one at a time in the flour. Shake off the excess flour. Add some olive oil and butter to the hot skillet. When it shimmers, slide the breasts into the hot oil and butter. I could only fit two at a time, so I cooked them in batches, removing them when done to a plate. When all the breasts were cooked and removed to a plate, I tossed 2 large cloves of peeled, smashed garlic into the hot skillet and stirred them around for a minute, then took them out and put them on the plate with the chicken. Why? If you cook them with either the chicken or the mushrooms (up next), you risk some of the garlic burning.
I added more oil and butter and tossed in the sliced crimini mushrooms. They take at least 5 minutes to brown up. Brown is good.
VERDICT: A++ I should never have waited to try to make this dish.
NEXT TIME I'LL CHANGE: I'll double the amount of sauce ingredients.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
1/3 - 1/2 cup of flour (you won't use it all)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (don't pooh-pooh the EVOO - it adds rich flavor)
2 tablespoons butter (please don't use margarine)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
8 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced 1/4" (the stems are too tough to eat)
1/2 cup DRY Marsala Wine (it comes sweet or dry - use dry)
1/2 cup chicken broth (from a can or a box, but not powdered)
Butterfly and pound chicken breasts. Place flour in a large shallow bowl and salt and pepper well, stir to combine.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil until it shimmers; add butter. Add chicken breasts. Cook in batches if they all won't fit. Brown on both sides and remove to a plate.
Add the garlic to the pan and saute a minute or so. Remove it to the plate with the chicken.
Add the remaining oil and butter along with the mushrooms. Stir to coat the mushrooms with the oil mixture; scraping up any brown bits on the skillet and mix it in with the mushrooms. Cook over medium heat until the mushroom liquid evaporates and they are browned on both sides, stirring occasionally. This will take at least 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Pour in the Marsala wine; bring to a boil. Allow it to reduce by half.
Add the chicken broth; bring to a boil and reduce by half.
Push the mushrooms aside and add the chicken and garlic back to the skillet. Bring to a simmer. Chicken will reheat and sauce will thicken.
Serve over wide noodles.