Chicken Marsala

With the bleak winter months in full swing, it’s time to turn up the flavor in the kitchen. We can do that with this robust and creamy dish. Served atop a bed of buttermilk mashed potatoes and completed with a side of hericot verts and shoe-stringed carrots, this delectable meal will let you forget about the howling winds and snow… at least for a little while.

The mushrooms make this dish. We’re using sliced cremini mushrooms here. These are just portabella mushrooms that haven’t grown up. In fact, many of the different varieties of mushrooms fall into the same category: it’s clearly all about size. Unlike their large brethren, cremini mushrooms can be eaten in their entirety, stems, gills and all. However, some discretion is needed here. If the stems are extraordinarily long, they should be trimmed, or if they are dry or split at the ends they should also be trimmed or removed entirely. The gills—the feathery grey structures under the cap—can be removed or left in. It’s entirely up to you. Some larger specimens of the cremini mushroom, bordering on baby ‘bella size might have prominent gills that would be better scraped out.

There’s also some confusion about cleaning mushrooms. Should they or shouldn’t they be rinsed under water. The popular and trendy advice is to brush the mushrooms with a soft brush to dislodge any remaining peat from the surface of the mushrooms. If you rinse them under water, the mushrooms will absorb the water like a sponge and you’ll end up with soggy ‘shrooms. Unfortunately, this is complete and utter tosh. Mushrooms already have an amazingly high water content, around 93%,  which is released during cooking. It’s possible this liquid was mistakenly believed to have come from rinse water. Whatever the case may be, rest assured that rinsing your mushrooms clean and allowing them a few minutes to drain will not result in watery mushrooms.

As for cooking the mushrooms, yes, they release a lot of water, and they release more and more depending on how long they are cooked. We want a happy middle ground. They need to be tender, a slight bit of resistance but not raw or undercooked. The mushrooms should just barely be tender when you add the marsala and the rest of the liquid ingredients. The mushrooms will continue to soften, but won’t shrivel in the cooking liquid.

As for the rest, the chicken cutlets are breast halves, split lengthwise and pounded to a ¼ inch thickness. Smaller breast halves can be left whole and pounded thin. Pounding breaks the muscle fibers which allows the cutlets to remain nearly the same size and thickness during cooking since protein fibers contract when exposed to heat unless broken or cut.

Chicken marsala is traditionally served over a nest of fettuccine, but is just as tasty over buttermilk mashers. Whatever you choose, consider trying this satisfying meal tonight.

Chicken Marsala

  • 4 chicken breast halves, split lengthwise and pounded to ¼ inch
  • fresh ground salt and pepper
  • 16 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
  • ¼ cup finely minced shallots
  • ½ cup dry marsala
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided 

Slice the chicken lengthwise and pound. Smaller breasts can be left whole but need to be pounded. Liberally season both sides of the breasts with fresh ground salt and pepper. Clean the mushrooms and slice them about an 1/8 inch thick. Remove any long or dry stems.

Melt 2 tablespoon of the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Fry the chicken in batches about 3 minutes a side. The chicken should be cooked through and slightly brown. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and turn the heat to medium. Sweat the shallots for 2-3 minutes until they become translucent and fragrant. Add the sliced mushrooms and sautee for 5 minutes stirring constantly until the mushrooms just become tender and slightly brown.

Deglaze the pan with the marsala scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Let the marsala simmer and reduce for about 2 minutes. Add the cream and lemon juice and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer. Add the chicken breasts back to the pan along with any juice and simmer uncovered for an additional 3 minutes. Serve over fettuccine nests, mashed potatoes or risotto, spooning a bit of sauce and mushrooms over all.