Classic Chicken Marsala

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Sometimes people avoid cooking because the pressure is just too great. Perhaps you are limited by your cooking creativity or a fear that a classic gourmet dish just won’t turn out as you hoped. My version of Chicken Marsala, made with just a few fresh ingredients, is a simple, yet hearty meal that is quick to prepare, yet will saturate your family’s taste buds with rich flavor. After trying this, you will never be tempted to pick up that sauce packet or can of condensed soup at the store again. Most people don’t realize that homemade sauces are no more difficult or expensive to prepare than processed foods, but they have a much better flavor and your family will notice the difference. I keep Marsala cooking wine (and various other cooking wines, such as port and Madeira) on hand just for making a quick, last-minute sauces.

Read the recipe and then give it a try! There are several classic cooking techniques you can pick up along with way that just might improve another dish that is on your list of favorites. This recipe takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, making it the perfect selection for an evening when preparation time is limited (which is just about every day at my house).

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 tbsp unsalted butter, divided (Use 8 tbsp for more richness.)
  • 1 cup baby portabella mushroom caps, washed and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, pounded thin
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. tarragon
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 lb. spaghetti, cooked al dente
  • parsley, optional garnish

Instructions:

  • IMG_0003Sauté mushrooms in 2-4 tbsp. melted butter in a skillet. Cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and then continue to cook at high temperature until the liquid is condensed (about 3 minutes).  At the last minute, add the garlic and stir for just one minute. Mushrooms should be caramelized, with just a little bit of browning. (Tip: Garlic cooks quickly, so add it near the end when sautéing.)
  • Add the Marsala wine and tarragon and cook until liquid is condensed and alcohol evaporates, leaving just the sweet flavor of the wine behind. You can let this simmer while you start cooking the chicken.
  • Sprinkle pounded chicken breasts with small amount of salt and fresh, ground pepper. (See tip on chicken pounding technique note below.) Using fresh, coarse-ground pepper is better than using pre-ground pepper as you will get more flavor when it is freshly ground.IMG_0001
  • Melt 4 tbsp. butter in skillet. When hot, but not turning brown, add chicken. (Tip: If using heavy aluminum skillet, place cold chicken in hot butter, but do not re-position it until after the chicken begins to caramelize and release from the pan, as turning the chicken too early can make it stick to the bottom. It is best to let chicken remain in the pan until the caramelization is complete before turning, even when using a non-stick pan.)
  • When the edges of the chicken start to look brown, turn the chicken to the other side and let it caramelize also. Chicken should be slightly brown where it came in direct contact with the pan. When done, remove from pan from heat. (Tip: Do not overcook the chicken, but this will make it tough. Because the uncooked chicken is pounded thin, it will cook quickly. When chicken looks white (opaque) and the outside turns brown, it is done.)
  • While the chicken is cooking, keep an eye on the mushroom sauce. When the liquid is condensed, remove from heat.
  • After chicken is done, add cream to mushroom sauce and stir. Heat over low heat just until mixture is warm and stir cream into the mushroom sauce. If the sauce gets too hot, the cream will separate, so make sure you heat gently until mixture is warm. If mushroom sauce is already warm, it may not be necessary to apply more heat. Remove from heat when warm.
  • Cook spaghetti in boiling water until al dente, or just until soft. (Tip: Test doneness by taking a strand of spaghetti out of the pot and see if it sticks to a surface.  Once it is sticky, it is done. Do not rinse the spaghetti noodles, as this removes the starch that makes the sauce stick to the pasta. Drain well and remove to large serving dish. I bought an inexpensive pasta serving dish that is deep enough to hold the pasta and meat with sauce. I use this dish all the time to serve my pasta.)
  • Arrange cooked chicken on top of pasta. Pour mushroom sauce over top of all. Garnish with additional tarragon or parsley (your choice). Don’t forget that how a dish looks is almost as important as how it tastes, so take the extra time to make a nice presentation.
  • Serve with a fresh salad or steamed, buttered broccoli.
  • Most likely, your dish won’t be in the serving dish long enough to get cold; however, if you have to keep the dish on “hold” (or wait to serve it), keep it warm in a 180-degree oven. If you make it hotter than this, the sauce will separate and will not appear as appetizing as it did when it was first made. Make sure your serving dish is oven-safe before placing it in a hot oven.

Chicken Pounding tip:  Making the chicken of an even thickness and pounding it thin will ensure even cooking (so some parts are not tough and others under-cooked) and will decrease cooking time. I use a thick gallon-size plastic food storage bag and a meat mallet (or hammer, if you don’t have a mallet) to pound it thin. Don’t be afraid to pound the thick parts until they are as thin as the other parts of the meat. This is a great way to take your daily frustrations out on the meat before your family gets to the table.

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