Chicken Piccata

Tender and incredibly thin chicken breast cutlets that cook in no time are the hallmark of a perfect piccata. A cut here, a pound there, how hard can it be? Just a smidgeon more difficult than easy. Any 5-year-old who’s ever pounded wooden blocks through a frame can pound chicken flat, and perhaps we should leave it to the 5-year-olds. The quickest way to ruin a cutlet is to pound it too forcefully, tearing the meat, rather than just flattening it.

Let the meat pounder do the work for you. Yes it takes a bit longer, but you end up with the perfect cutlets. If you like the look of an entire chicken breast, pounded thin, rather than much smaller chicken “chips” you can simply slice the breast lengthwise, from the top to the bottom. Once pounded to a ¼-inch thickness, the distal half, the rib and wing side, looks exactly like a whole breast. The proximal side, the length that connects to the breastbone, when pounded flat resembles a tenderloin.

The best meat pounder to use for chicken is a large, flat and very heavy gadget. Meat pounders with two sides, one for flattening and one for tenderizing are usually too small and too light to effectively pound the meat without using some extra force. Placing the chicken cutlets between plastic also helps to keep the chicken from tearing under stress. It also keeps your walls and counter clean and chicken-spatter free. Plastic wrap certainly fits the bill, but a plastic zip top bag works best. It’s closed on three sides and the chicken can be easily added and removed from the bag.

If the chicken breasts you are using still have the tenderloin attached, that will need to be removed first and reserved for another use. When cooked, the tenderloin muscle strands will contract. As its namesake implies, the meat will remain succulent and tender, but it will be twice as thick as the rest of your cutlets. And because it’s the tenderloin, it shouldn’t be pounded flat. Even under the best of circumstances the meat will shred and tear if it’s pounded.

Thin lemon slices and capers finish this dish. Capers are the brined, unopened buds of the Capparis spinosa or caper bush. They are sorted by size with the non pareil being the smallest and Capote much larger. Either will work in this recipe.

Finish the dish with risotto and sautéed asparagus.

Chicken Piccata

  • 4-6 chicken breast cutlets (2-3 breasts)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 4 tablespoon butter, divided
  • flour, for dusting
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper 

Slice the chicken in half lengthwise. Place the chicken in a heavy plastic bag and carefully pound the halves flat to a ¼-inch. Season the pounded cutlets with salt and fresh ground black pepper and then dust with flour.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy non-stick skillet. Fry the cutlets, in batches, if necessary for 2-3 minutes a side. They should just start to brown. Remove the cutlets to a platter and set aside.

Add the garlic to the pan and sauté quickly for 1-2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the sherry and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom. Reduce the sherry until it’s almost completely gone. Add the chicken broth to the pan and stir to combine. Add the butter and allow it to melt, stirring to combine. Place the cutlets back in the pan, place the lemon slices on top of the chicken and add the capers. Cover the pan with a large pizza pan or other lid that allows venting. Simmer the cutlets for an additional 2 minutes.

Serve each cutlet with lemon slices and a ladle of the sauce with the capers.