Up until a few days ago, my only experiences with chicken marsala were from when I was a teenager eating at a handful of kitschy Italian restaurants in my rural home town. With names like "Gino's Italian Restaurante" or "Villa Roma," you knew what to expect before walking through the door: red and white checkered tablecloths, rustic wall murals of ancient Roman ruins, plastic grape vines hanging from the ceiling, and basket-bottomed wine bottles elaborately set on display in a corner. You also know that if you wanted to upmarket it from a standard pizza meal, there was sure to be chicken marsala for an entrée instead.
I may poke fun at the goofy pizzerias that serve this dish that melds classic French cooking with Italian wine, and yes, there is some bad execution going on out there, but I've always had a soft spot for this dish. When done right, it's a lovely serving of thinly pounded tender chicken breasts dredged in flour, pan-fried, then drenched in a rich marsala- (a fortified wine from the Marsala region in Sicily) flavored mushroom pan sauce. For those of you in doubt (and I know you're out there), I whipped up an awesomely good recipe of this classic Italian American dish so you can see for yourself at home.
Pounding out the breasts lets the chicken cook evenly and keeps it tender. Instead of plastic wrap, I just used a ziplock bag (less mess this way). For the sauce, lots of flavorful bacon is fried to a crisp, then mushrooms are cooked down and concentrated. The pan is then deglazed with chicken stock and marsala (use the dry stuff here, save the sweet version for dessert). The resulting sauce is enriched with butter, thyme, and sage, and mildly thickened from a slight reduction; you'll be looking for anything to sop it up with.
Now, if you were dining at Gino's, you'd probably be diving into this along with a side of spaghetti marinara and garlic knots. Instead, I opted for a simple but complementary sage butter pasta and a light spinach salad. (Insert here: a kiss on the fingertips.)
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About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com . Follow Yvonne on Twitter.