So I have a confession. Although I spend a significant portion of my day browsing other food blogs, I almost never make anything from them. I'm sorry. I'm not really sure why. There are so many beautiful blogs with tempting recipes and yet for whatever reason I'm just not compelled to add the dish to my to do list. I would guess it's because if so and so is blogging about say, lentils, then I feel like what more can I add to the discussion about lentils, unless of course my take is very different. Does that make sense?
Anyway, Monday in lieu of actually working, I was killing time on Tastespotting, one of my favorite places to go to see what other people are writing about and to discover blogs that I've never known before. Just such a thing happened. I came across a gorgeous picture of a carrot cupcake, it's wrapper seductively half peeled off. It was topped with a creamy swirl of MAPLE cream cheese frosting, which was sprinkled with chopped pecans. MAPLE cream cheese frosting, people. I was sucked in. I clicked over to the blog that the photo was from, called Nook and Pantry, and began browsing. Under the poultry category I found this recipe, which the writer adapted from Cooks Illustrated. I was in a chickeny mood and liked the idea of a simple wine based pan sauce, so I decided I had to make it that evening despite the fact that Chicken Marsala always makes me think of frozen dinners. What I liked about this recipe in particular was the inclusion of pancetta and crimini mushrooms. You're not going to find those in a frozen dinner. And let's be honest, anything with pancetta is going to taste great.
Not really knowing very much about Chicken Marsala, I began to do a little research. It's name, obviously comes from the main ingredient, Marsala wine, which is a fortified wine from Sicily. Comparing recipes I found that they all start with a chicken breast that has been pounded to an even thickness, then dredged in flour and then sauteed. The sauce at it's most basic is Marsala wine, cooked down over high heat until it thickens. Most by not all recipes include mushrooms in the sauce. Some also use onions, shallots and/or garlic. Often butter is swirled into the sauce to give it some richness. Occasionally cream is used as well. Typically the herb used in the sauce is Italian parsley, as described on Nook and Pantry, although I came across recipes that used fresh oregano instead, as well as sage. Crimini mushrooms, pancetta, and sage. I think my take on Chicken Marsala was going to be different enough that I felt justified in writing about it.
4 chicken boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 cup sweet Marsala wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Juice of half a lemon
Place the chicken breast on a square of cling film and sprinkle with a little water. The water helps prevent the chicken from shredding or tearing while pounding. Fold the cling film over and then using the flat side of a meat tenderizer or something equally heavy, pound the chicken until it's an even thickness.
Season the chicken on both sides with salt.
Meanwhile, add the flour to a wide, shallow bowl and season with black pepper and dried oregano. Dredge the chicken in the flour, patting off any excess.
Place a skillet over medium high heat and add the oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Once the butter has melted and is foamy (it should not be brown), place the flour coated chicken into the pan and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes for the first side, until golden brown.
Turn the chicken over and continue to cook for 4 minutes or so. Remove the chicken from the pan, place on a plate and cover with aluminum foil.
Add the chopped pancetta to the pan and cook until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove and place on a plate covered with several layers of paper towels, to soak up the grease. Next add the sliced mushrooms to the pan and cook until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, making sure to scrape up any bits left in the bottom of the pan from the chicken and pancetta. You may have to add a little more olive oil if the pan seems too dry.
Next add the shallots, garlic, sage, and tomato paste and stir to combine. Cook until the shallots have softened, which should take 2 or 3 minutes, and then add the Marsala.
Turn the heat to high and bring the sauce to a vigorous simmer. Continue cooking until the sauce has reduced and thickened a little. Add the chicken breasts and any juices that have collected on the plate to the pan, as well as the lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir to combine, turning the chicken to coat in the sauce.
To serve, place the chicken on a plate and spoon over some of the sauce and mushrooms. Sprinkle with some of the cooked pancetta and a little of the remaining chopped sage.
The sauce, silky and sweet from the marsala, is balanced by the smoky, peppery pancetta, earthy mushrooms and woodsy sage. The tablespoon of butter at the end gives the sauce a richness and a nice glossy sheen while the spritz of lemon juice cuts that richness a little and adds a pleasing hit of acid. The crimini mushrooms become tender, saturated with the sauce which is nicely contrasted by the crisp pancetta. It all goes great with the sauteed chicken breasts as well as the garlic, rosemary and garlic creamy polenta that I served with it. Perfect fall flavors.