Chicken Marsala. Mushrooms and sauce with flavor galore!

Marsala Wine makes a sweet but savory sauce that knocks this one out of the park.

Marsala is a sweet wine from Italy from a family called Fortified Wines. Other Fortified Wines include Port, Sherry, Vermouth and Madeira. The term “fortified” means that the wine was mixed with another form of alcohol, usually brandy. This was done originally to give the wine a longer shelf life. The higher alcohol content makes fortified wines excellent in sauces because you can reduce it down to a syrup without cooking out all of the flavor.

If you can find affordable Italian Marsala, great! If not, you can also buy it in most grocery or wine stores. Mine came from California, was inexpensive, and was found in my regular old grocery store. Look near the specialty wines like champagne and sherry. If you can’t find Marsala, be sure to ask because I’ll bet it’s hiding somewhere in the wine aisle.

Here’s what you need:

Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, Mushrooms, Shallot, Garlic, Lemon, Flour, Butter, Thyme, Marsala Wine, Tomato Paste, Pasta, Parsley, Salt & Pepper, and Olive Oil (not pictured).

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This is another one of those recipes that comes together very quickly. It’s a good idea to get all of your chopping and prep work done before you start cooking.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Also, if you’re serving this with pasta (and you should…although garlic mashed potatoes would be lovely too), put a large pot of water on to boil.

Wash, rinse, do whatever you do to mushrooms and slice them up.

I’m using 8 ounces of Baby Bella or Crimini Mushrooms. They have a little bit heartier mushroom flavor but regular white button mushrooms will also work just fine.

Chop up a medium shallot — about 2-3 Tablespoons when finely chopped.

Finely chop 2-3 cloves of garlic. We’ll put 1/2 in the sauce and 1/2 on the pasta.

Also chop up some fresh, flat leaf parsley. About 1/2 cup.

For this recipe, we need thin cutlets of chicken breasts. Most recipes would suggest that you pound the chicken until you have whispy, thin little cutlets.

I have absolutely NO patience for pounding the heck out of chicken so I prefer to cut my boneless, skinless breasts into cutlets. You can also buy chicken cutlets pre-cut at the store but they charge you about $5 more a pound just to cut them in half. Not worth it. You can cut your own. It’s easy.

Put the boneless, skinless chicken breast on the cutting board and place your had completely flat on top of the chicken. With a sharp knife, carefully cut halfway through the chicken using your hand to put just the slightest amount of pressure so the knife moves evenly.

You might think this looks crazy, but take a minute, pay attention to what you’re doing and it’s really very simple. I play the flute for a living and need my fingers. I have NEVER cut myself doing this. I have, however,  managed to do some serious damage grating on the microplane.

Gently pressing on the chicken helps to keep the knife steady and the pieces a fairly even thickness.

Look! Two little chicken cutlets!

Don’t worry if they’re not perfect. I promise that you won’t care once you put the mushroom sauce on top.

Cutting the chicken instead of pounding keeps the fibers of the meat intact. Personally, I think that the chicken is much more tender and juicy when it hasn’t been pounded.

Season the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper.

Put 1/2 cup of flour in a shallow pan or plate and season it with salt and pepper.

Dip or dredge the chicken cutlets in flour on both sides. Gently shake off any excess flour.

Sometimes you have to use your fingers to gently pat the flour onto the chicken to get an even coating.

Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter and 1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil in a large pan over medium high heat. I’m using a non-stick pan to make clean-up easier.

The combination of olive oil and butter gives you great  flavor from the butter and a higher cooking temperature from the oil. When the oil and butter are melted and foamy, add the floured chicken and cook 2-3 minutes per side until slightly crispy and golden brown.

Because the chicken cutlets are so thin, they cook in just minutes. When both sides are golden brown, place the chicken on a warm plate in a 200 degree oven. The chicken will continue to cook in the oven while we make the amazing Marsala sauce. You might need to do two batches of chicken so that they don’t crowd the pan.

Check in on your pasta water, if it’s boiling, add a generous handful of salt and drop in 1/2 pound of spaghetti, linguini or other long, think pasta. Cook the pasta for 7-8 minutes or until just al dente – tender but slightly firm in the middle.

Back to the sauce…if your pan is a little dry, add 1 more Tablespoon of butter and saute the sliced mushrooms, shallots, and garlic over medium heat.

Cook the mushrooms until they are slightly brown and beginning to soften – about 5 minutes – then add 1 cup of Marsala Wine.

Bring the sauce up to a gentle boil and cook for 3-4 minutes until it reduces by about half and becomes slightly syrupy.

Add a pinch (about 1/4 teaspoon) of dried thyme and salt & pepper to the sauce. Don’t forget to scrape up any tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Try to catch any seeds before they sneak into the sauce.

This is a fairly light sauce. To give it just a bit more body, add 1 Tablespoon of Tomato Paste.

If you want your sauce to be completely heavenly, add one final Tablespoon of butter to the sauce and stir to combine.

Rescue the chicken from the oven and nestle the cutlets down in the sauce while you finish the pasta.

So that the cutlets keep their nice texture, I don’t put them into the sauce longer than 3-4 minutes. If you’re not ready to go with the pasta, sides, or rest of dinner, you can easily hold all the parts separately – chicken in the oven, sauce turned down on the stove – until everything is ready. Then just put it together to warm up and combine flavors.

Drain the pasta, add a little butter or olive oil and the remaining chopped garlic to the hot pan. Return the pasta to the pan and toss it to coat in the garlic butter/oil.

Add lots of chopped fresh parsley to the pasta and toss it all together. Save just a pinch of parsley to garnish the chicken.

Serve the chicken cutlets on a bed of pasta. Spoon the mushroom Marsala sauce over the top.

Chicken Marsala – it’s not just for restaurants anymore. Quick and easy enough for a weeknight, fancy enough for company.

Let’s eat! Andiamo a mangiare!

Here’s the recipe — Italian lessons sold separately.

Chicken Marsala

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