Chicken Marsala – Golden crispy cutlets, rich creamy Marsala wine sauce. Comforting yet luxurious. Midweek-fast yet restaurant-worthy. Economical. Easy. The perfect meal!
Chicken Marsala is an Italian-American classic, one of those dishes born from blending Italian recipes with American tastes. A dish that is now so beloved that it’s a staple in restaurants across the States and well beyond.
One bite is all it takes to be hooked for life, just as I was!
It’s essentially a variation of traditional Italian scaloppine dishes. A thin chicken cutlet is coated in flour then pan fried until crispy and golden, then smothered in a rich sauce that is flavoured with Marsala which is a fortified Italian wine.
Marsala is one of those secret weapon ingredients. A splash of that, and it’s like you added stock, honey, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce with a touch woody nuttiness into the sauce. The flavour that goes so well with chicken, especially with a little bit of cream to finish it off.
That sauce! It’s absolutely stunning. Thank you Mr Marsala!
This one’s for the grown-ups 🙂
And in case you’re worried, no, the sauce doesn’t taste “alcoholic” at all. The Marsala wine is simmered rapidly to cook out most of the alcohol, leaving behind just the flavour.
Having said that though, this dish uses more than the usual small splash of wine I use in other recipes so it’s not one I’d recommend for the kids. I’d recommend the Chicken in Creamy Mushroom Sauce instead – everyone can enjoy that!
Ingredients in chicken marsala
As noted above, the key ingredient in Chicken Marsala Sauce is marsala which is a fortified wine (like port) from the Marsala region of Italy. It’s got a sweet, nutty flavour that’s more complex and richer than red wine.
Use a dry marsala rather than sweet marsala which is more commonly used in desserts.
It’s a standard item at liquor stores and while premium marsala is pricey, there’s no need to go crazy here. The marsala pictured below cost around $20 but you can pick up bottles for less than $10. It will last “forever” and can be used in place of port in dishes like Slow Cooked Pork Braised Lamb Shanks.
Substitutes – Port wine, sherry, or madeira. For non alcoholic version of this recipe, use Chicken with Creamy Mushroom Sauce!
Everything else you need
And here’s the other ingredients you need.
Chicken breast – 2 large ones which we split in 2 horizontally to create 4 steaks in total. Substitute with four boneless chicken thighs.
Cream – To add a little luxuriousness to the sauce. To reduce calories a bit, you can substitute with evaporated milk as cream is not the primary ingredient in this sauce. The sauce will not have the same creamy mouthful but it will still have the same beautiful marsala flavour.
Chicken stock/broth – To add savouriness into the sauce. Without it, it’s just lacking a bit of flavour.
Eschalot / French onion (called shallots in the US) – I like using eschalots in this dish because they are sweeter and also finer so they kind of meld into the finished sauce better, rather than having chunky lumps of onion. However, you can substitute with 1/2 small onion OR 1/4 cup of the white part of green onions (split in half lengthwise then slice into 1cm / 1/3″ squares).
Mushrooms – White mushrooms or Swiss brown/cremini. Whichever you prefer!
Butter and oil – For cooking the chicken and making the sauce. We want the butter for flavour, but it burns if we only use butter so it’s best to use oil as well.
Flour – To add a lovely golden crust on the chicken that the sauce can cling to!
Garlic – Because…garlic!
Parsley – Just an optional garnish!
How to make Chicken Marsala
Chicken Marsala is made by cooking the chicken first until golden and crispy. Then it’s set aside on a plate while the sauce is made in the same pan (we want all those tasty chicken drippings in the sauce!) , then added back into the sauce at the end just to warm through again.
Pound chicken Cut each breast in half to form 2 thin steaks (so you have 4 in total). Cover with a freezer bag or Go-Between and pound to 1 cm / 0.4″ thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Go-between is like cling wrap but it’s thicker and doesn’t stick to itself. Sold alongside cling wrap at the grocery store, it’s useful for keeping stacked food in the freezer from sticking to each other, and protecting meat from being damaged when pounding.
Why we pound the meat – To make the chicken even thickness so it cooks through evenly as well as tenderising it.
Season and dust – Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle with flour and lightly rub it across the surface with your hands.
Shake off excess flour before cooking, else you’ll end up with lots of excess flour in the pan which will burn.
Sear chicken – Melt the butter and heat the oil in a large non-stick pan over medium high heat. When the butter is foamy, cook the chicken for 4 minutes until golden and crispy. Turn the chicken then cook the other side for 2 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Remove the chicken onto a plate and set aside while we make the sauce in the same pan. It will cool down but that’s ok because we reheat the chicken in the sauce just before serving.
Make sauce – Using the same pan, because we want all the tasty flavour left by searing the chicken, melt the remaining butter and oil. Sauté the eschalots and garlic for just 1 minute – this gives them a head start as well as flavouring the butter/oil. Then cook the mushrooms until they soften – this takes around 4 to 5 minutes.
Reduce marsala – Next, rapidly simmer the marsala for a few minutes until it reduces by half. This not only cooks out most of the alcohol flavour but also reduces and concentrates the flavour.
Creamy and thickened – Pour in the cream, salt and pepper. Then simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens to a cream consistency. Initially the sauce will be quite pale but it will darken as it reduces.
Don’t let it reduce and thicken too much as we are simmering it for a further 1 minute to re-warm the chicken and the sauce thickens a surprising amount as it cools when serving.
Re-warm chicken – Put the chicken into the sauce and let it simmer for 1 minute, just to reheat. Don’t forget to pour in any juices pooled on the plate – never waste free flavour!
What to serve with Chicken Marsala
A sauce this good requires some form of starchy vehicle for sauce soaking / mopping. Mashed potato (pictured), creamy polenta, pasta (long, short, small), even rice. I can totally see myself serving this with garlic butter kale rice!
Watch how to make it
Golden crusted chicken:
- 2 large chicken breasts (300g/10oz each), cut in half horizontally (or 4 thighs, Note 1)
- 1/2 tsp cooking salt / kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 cup flour , plain/all-purpose
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp / 30g unsalted butter
- 2 eschalots (US: shallots), peeled and cut into 1cm / 1/3″ squares (Note 2)
- 1 garlic , finely minced
- 2 cups white mushrooms , sliced 0.5cm / 1/5" thick
- 1 cup dry marsala wine (Note 3)
- 1/2 cup chicken stock/broth , low sodium
- 1/2 cup thickened / heavy cream (Note 4)
- 1/4 tsp cooking salt / kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley , for garnish (optional)
- Pound – Cut each breast in half to form 2 thin steaks. Cover with a freezer bag or Go-Between (Note 5) and pound to 1 cm / 0.4″ thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. This tenderises and ensures even cooking of the chicken.
- Dust – Sprinkle the surface with half the salt, pepper then flour. Lightly rub flour across surface, turn and repeat with remaining salt, pepper and flour. Shake excess flour off each piece just before cooking.
- Cook – Put half the butter and oil in a large non-stick pan over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted and foamy, place chicken in, then cook for 3 to 4 minutes until it's gorgeously golden and crispy. Turn and cook the other side for 2 minutes. Remove onto a plate.
Creamy marsala sauce:
- Sauté aromatics – In the same pan, add remaining butter and oil. Once butter is melted, add eschalots and garlic. Cook for 1 minute.
- Cook mushrooms – Add mushrooms. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Reduce marsala – Add marsala, turn up heat to high and boil for 3 minutes or until reduced by half.
- Thicken sauce – Add chicken stock, cream, salt and pepper. Stir, then lower heat so it's simmering (not boiling rapidly) and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes until the sauce thickens to a cream consistency (not too thick, will thicken more).
- Rewarm chicken – Nestle chicken into sauce and leave for 30 seconds to reheat.
- Serve! Take off the stove. Sprinkle with parsley, serve over starchy vehicle of choice (I chose mash. Rice, small pasta, polenta or bread for plate mopping also work well!).
Life of Dozer
I spent this morning in a photography studio with a team of professionals shooting recipes for a magazine. Dozer came. So much food, so many people to harass. He was in his element! (And his conversion rate was extremely high).