Saltimbocca is a traditional Italian dish that’s super-quick and economical too! I adore the textural contrast of the crispy prosciutto, tender meat and the silky white wine butter sauce. Traditionally made with veal, saltimbocca is also excellent made with chicken, pork and beef.
HOT TIP: Great dinner party / make-ahead recipe. Keep it prepped in the fridge, then it’s just a 3 1/2-minute cook (including the sauce!).
The literal translation of Saltimbocca is “to jump in your mouth” which is probably in reference to the flavour that hits your palate on first bite. But also, perhaps, about the speed at which it can be made. As in: So fast, it jumps in your mouth. You see what I did there??! 😂
A classic Italian dish originating from Rome, Saltimbocca is traditionally made with thin veal cutlets wrapped or topped with prosciutto, and a whole sage leaf often pressed or pinned on top with a toothpick. Pan-frying turns the prosciutto golden and the meat inside is so thin, it literally takes 2 1/2 minutes flat to cook. Then the buttery, silky white wine sauce is made in the same pan – this takes just another minute!
It’s simple, classic, rustic and fabulous. A cursory browse of internet recipes show some rather eyebrow-raising takes on Saltimbocca – rolled versions, skewered versions and versions smothered in cheese that look suspiciously like Parmigiana. Whereas actually true Saltimbocca is far simpler. After all, why mess with perfection?
Veal, beef, pork or chicken Saltimbocca
As mentioned earlier, Saltimbocca is traditionally made with veal. However it works just as well with chicken, pork or beef, which for many people is easier to get and cheaper.
Veal vs beef Saltimbocca – I’ve tried both and here are the differences. Veal is a more delicate, tender version of beef – with a lighter flavour and a more giving texture. Beef, once pounded into thin steaks suitable for saltimbocca, is still more tender than a thick-cut steak but not as soft as veal.
That’s not to say that veal tastes better than beef in my view. They are just different! And different again is using pork or chicken for saltimbocca. Both mighty delicious, I should add!
The chicken saltimbocca pictured below was lunch yesterday. I snapped a quick photo then hoovered it down still warm!
Ingredients in Saltimbocca
Here’s what you need to make traditional Italian Saltimbocca:
Saltimbocca is unexpectedly economical, calling for just 80g / 2.5 oz protein and 2 small slices of prosciutto per serve.
Veal (or chicken or beef) – Whatever your protein of choice, it needs to be in a thin piece of meat! It’s handy if you can buy them as already thinly sliced steaks (sometimes sold as “sizzle steaks”, “scallopini” or “schnitzel” here in Australia) so they only require a light pounding out. Otherwise, you can slice meat yourself and then flatten the steaks out. Here in Australia, veal steaks in particular are always sold thin, rather than thick-cut like beef steaks.
If you’re preparing your own Saltimbocca meat, just make sure you are using a cut of meat that is suitable for quick-cooking like steaks. Tougher cuts that require slow cooking to make them tender such as chuck, ribs, belly and shoulder (ie cuts you use for stews and casseroles) are not suitable.
Chicken – Use a whole breast, sliced into steaks and pounded out. See step photos below for more guidance (I promise it’s easy, and it doesn’t need to be perfect, just cook-able).
Prosciutto – This is what makes Saltimbocca, well, Saltimbocca rather than a plain ol’ pan-fried piece of meat! Prosciutto is also provides the main seasoning for this dish. We only add the tiniest pinch of salt in the sauce, and none on the veal!
How much prosciutto you need – 4 small pieces or 2 very large slices. Enough to cover one side of the veal when folded over itself as a double layer of prosciutto. The underside is not covered in prosciutto (it can be made wrapped all around but I prefer not).
Fresh sage – The essential herb in Saltimbocca, sage pairs beautifully with the prosciutto and meat. It also brings a pop of colour. I love how it crisps up as it fries!
White wine – A splash of wine is the secret to make a really tasty pan sauce without fussing with lots of ingredients. The wine is reduced to evaporate most of the alcohol, leaving behind just flavour. So it doesn’t taste winey at all.
Wine type – Pinot grigio, being a wine variety popular in Italy, is fitting. However I personally also like chardonnay for the assertive flavours this wine brings to food.
Actually any white wine will work fine here, and even a sparkling wine/champagne. Marsala is a fortified wine that is sometimes also traditionally used in Saltimbocca in Italy, but note it is quite sweet and strongly flavoured – so use less.
Non-alcoholic sub: I think non-alcoholic white wine would be the best alternative here, followed low-sodium chicken stock/broth (be sure to use low-salt else the dish may end up a tad too salty).
COLD butter – Butter is how you transform a watery liquid into a silky, lightly viscous sauce without using any thickening agent like flour or cornflour/cornstarch, properly called “mounting a sauce” in classical cookery. The butter must be cold in order for it to work properly, cut into cubes so it melts evenly and slowly into the sauce. Watch the sauce magic happen in the recipe video below.
Flour – This is used to dust the non-prosciutto side of the veal. Once cooked, it creates a thin crust that gives the sauce something to cling to. Without it, the sauce just slips off the surface of the meat like Teflon. It also helps make the veal or other protein get a little colour on it in the very short cook time.
Pepper only – No salt required! The salt from the prosciutto is all we need on the veal. Although I do like to add a pinch into the sauce, it barely needs it.
Olive oil – For pan-frying the veal.
How to make Saltimbocca
As I re-read this post, it dawned on me that I included a fair amount of step photos for a recipe that I assured you is so fast and easy! It’s really not hard, I promise. I just thought perhaps assembling the Saltimbocca might be new to some readers so I wanted to show it step by step.
If you’re an old hand at Saltimbocca however, you can bypass this whole section. Here’s all you need to know right here:
How to make Saltimbocca: A shorthand recipe for pros!
Assemble: Secure folded prosciutto and sage onto 3 mm pounded veal. Dust underside with flour.
Cook: Prosciutto side 90 seconds, flip, 60 seconds on the other.
Deglaze: Remove veal, discard excess oil. Deglaze pan with wine, turn off stove, drop in butter and swirl to melt. Serve!
1. Assemble the saltimbocca
You can make short work of the prep if you purchase ready-to-cook thin slices of veal, which is how they are typically sold here in Australia. Chicken and beef are also often sold in thinly-sliced form here.
Pound until thin – Pound the veal to a 3mm thickness, then cut each piece to form 4 pieces of veal. It doesn’t matter what size or shape the pieces are, more important is the thickness.
Best way to pound meat: Place the veal between 2 freezer bags, baking paper (parchment paper) or purpose-made plastic sheets called “Go-Between*” (pictured, see below) to protect the meat. Then use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound the veal gently and evenly so it flattens uniformly.
I use the toothed face of the meat mallet for red meat (veal and beef), and the smooth face for chicken, which is more delicate.
Cutting chicken for saltimbocca – see info box below for detailed steps.
Prosciutto – Sprinkle the veal with pepper (no salt, we get enough from the prosciutto). Fold the prosciutto in half then place on top of the veal. Note it’s does not wrap the meat, it is only covering the top surface.
Secure with toothpick – Place a nice big leaf of sage on top of the prosciutto, then secure both the prosciutto and sage in place with a toothpick. Pierce the meat from the underside, weave through the prosciutto and sage, then back out the underside. This way they sit flatter against the meat and cook more evenly.
Dust underside with flour – Press the side of the veal without prosciutto on it into the flour, shaking off the excess.
* Go-Between is a plastic sheet that comes in rolls, which you tear off to size like cling wrap. It’s used to protect delicate meats when pounding, and also to put between layers of things to stop them from sticking (hence the name!) It’s especially useful for freezing things.
How to cut chicken for Saltimbocca
Chicken breast is easiest to handle for Saltimbocca. You will only need one large 220 – 250g / 7 – 8oz breast. Option 1: Slice in half horizontally to form 2 thin steaks, pound to 0.5cm / 1/5″ thickness (using the flat side) then cut each piece in half so you have 4 pieces in total. Option 2: Slice whole breast on a steep angle to make 4 steaks (steps pictured) then pound each one out. Note that I make chicken steaks slightly thicker than veal as chicken flesh is more delicate and is prone to tearing if too thin.
Boneless thighs are another option if you prefer. Use 2 small thighs. Cut open and spread (butterfly) the thicker end to even out the thickness, then pound.
2. Cooking Saltimbocca
Sear – Cook the prosciutto side of the veal first until golden, around 1 1/2 minutes.
Flip and cook the flour dusted side for 60 more seconds.
Remove the veal straight on to a serving plate (or individual plates) to rest while we make the sauce.
Discard excess oil in the pan. Tip it out, but don’t scrape the pan clean. All that golden stuff you see stuck to the pan is called fond. Fond is packed with umami and concentrated flavour, and is the secret to an incredible tasting pan sauce made with just wine and butter!
3. Saltimbocca sauce
The pan sauce takes 1 minute flat to make: 30 seconds to reduce the wine then 30 seconds to swirl cold butter cubes in until they melt to create a silky sauce.
Wine – Return the pan to the stove then add the wine.
Reduce wine by half – The wine will simmer rapidly because we only use a small amount (1/4 cup / 60 ml) in a large, hot pan. Reduce by half, around 20 to 30 seconds.
Add cold butter – Turn the stove off, scatter in the butter cubes and swirl the pan until the butter melts (or just use a wooden spoon). Melting cold butter slowly on a turned off stove is the trick to making an opaque, thickened sauce like the Saltimbocca white wine sauce. High heat means the butter melts faster and becomes more transparent, and you’ll find the sauce won’t thicken as effectively. But, it’s still tasty!
Thickened sauce – And here it is! Look how creamy and glossy that sauce looks. That’s what happens when you slowly melt cold butter into a sauce!
Note on sauce colour: The final colour of your sauce will be affected by the amount of fond in the pan. More fond = browner or more orange-coloured sauce (like in the video). Less fond = more butter-yellow sauce, like in the photos in this post.
And with that, we’re done! Super fast, see? It HAS to be, or else you’ll overcook the veal. Time to plate up: put the Saltimbocca on serving plates then spoon over that dreamy sauce.
What to serve with Saltimbocca
Starchy vehicle – I always serve Saltimbocca over a starchy base suitable for maximising enjoyment of the sauce. Which means creamy mashed potato on normal days, cauliflower mash on “I’m trying to be good!” days, polenta on “I’m really going for a proper Italian vibe here!” days, and bread for plate-mopping on “I can’t even handle making mash today!” days.
Side salad – Try a side of Sautéed Garlic Green Beans, my favourite Tomato Salad. Or if speed is of the essence, a quick Italian Rocket/Arugula Salad. For something a little special and different, like if you’re serving Saltimbocca for a dinner party, this Bitterleaf Orange Salad or a big Panzanella are options that will turn heads!
More ideas in my vegetable sides section – you can browse by vegetable type which my friends tell me they find quite handy.
I’d love to know what you serve Saltimbocca with if you give this a go, let me know! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
- 2 x 80g / 3 oz thin veal steaks or boneless cutlets (sizzle steaks, schnitzel, scallopini) OR thinly cut beef steaks, pork or a chicken breast (Note 1)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 4 large sage leaves
- 4 prosciutto slices (finely sliced, Note 2)
- 2 tbsp flour (plain/all-purpose)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 50 g / 3 tbsp COLD unsalted butter , cut into 1cm / 1/3″ cubes (Note 3)
- 1/4 cup white wine , pinot grigio or chardonnay (Note 4)
- Small pinch of salt
- Pound: Place the veal between sheets of cling wrap or paper. Pound to an even 3mm thickness using a meat mallet (Note 5 for tips!) Cut each piece in half so you have 4 pieces in total, and sprinkle both sides with pepper.
- Prosciutto and sage: Fold a slice of prosciutto in half then place on one piece of veal (trim if needed so it's not hanging off the sides too much). Place a sage leaf on top then secure with a toothpick, piercing from the underside (see step photos or video). Do the same with the other piece of veal.
- Dust: Spread flour on a plate. Press the non-prosciutto side of the veal into the flour, shaking off excess (do not flour the prosciutto side).
- First side 1 1/2 minutes: Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium-high heat. Place veal slices in the pan, prosciutto-side down, and cook for 90 seconds until prosciutto is beautifully golden.
- Other side 1 min:Turn veal and cook the other side for 1 minute. Remove to a warm plate.
- Tip out excess oil (do not scrape pan clean however). Return skillet to stove, with heat still on.
- Reduce wine: Pour in wine (careful, it will be steamy!) plus pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer then let it cook for 20 to 30 seconds, stirring to scrape up the brown fond from the base of the pan, until wine is reduced by half.
- Swirl butter: Keep the pan on the stove but turn the stove OFF. Scatter the butter in the pan then swirl (or stir) until it melts. The clear liquid will thicken magically into a luscious butter sauce!
- Divide veal between plates. Spoon over sauce. Devour! (Careful of the toothpick!)
Life of Dozer
Rugs are for humans to enjoy looking at and walk on with bare feet.
Kleenex’s are to wipe eye-snot and unidentifiable goop coming out of one’s nose.
One and the same to him.