Project Wonderful

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Easy Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata is one of those dishes everyone should know how to make without needing a recipe. It's an easy and fairly quick dish that is sure to impress.

The word "piccata" comes from the Milanese word "picchiare" which means to pound - which is what is done with the meat. A traditional Italian piccata would be done with veal chops, pounded thin, dredged in flour or bread crumbs and pan fried with a sauce made from the drippings and Marsala wine. But the beauty of this dish is that there are a multiple number of ways that it can be made. You can use veal, or chicken, bread crumbs or flour, cook the whole thing in butter or olive oil, use garlic or not, parsley or basil or tarragon, shallots or onions, white wine, Marsala wine, or all lemon juice. The possibilities and combinations are endless.

My particular favorite is with parsley and a lemon/ caper sauce, which is what I made here. Anyone that knows me knows I'm a fan of garlic, but this is one dish where I didn't include it. I may make a variation of this with basil and garlic some time in the future, though.

The ingredients for this one are not very exact and that's another benefit of making this dish: you don't need to be incredibly strict about the amount of each ingredient you use, as just about any combination will work together well.

2-4 Chicken breasts pounded to about 1/4" thickness
2 tbs flour
Juice of 2 lemons
Lemon zest
1 cup white wine
1 bunch of Italian parsley
4 Tbs butter

Take your chicken breasts and slice them horizontally in half. You can sometimes find "thin cut" chicken breasts at the market, but either way, you're going to want to get them thinner.

Sandwich the breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap. You can use wax paper sheets instead, but I like being able to see the meat and gauge its thickness. Pound the breasts to about 1/4" thickness with the smooth side of a meat tenderizer, or anything with a flat surface, (On particularly bad days, I use my head, but I don't advise this method).

Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour onto a plate and dredge each breast in the flour, shaking off the excess. Just a light coating will do.

Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to your favorite saute pan under medium high heat.

When the oil is shimmering (just before it starts smoking) you are ready to add the meat.
Carefully lay each breast in the oil and cook on each side about 3 minutes.
The meat wont take long to cook. You want a nice golden brown color.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare your other ingredients. 

This is Italian flat leaf parsley, but just about any herb can be used. (basil works great.)

Once the breasts are browned, remove them from the pan to rest on a plate.

Once the breasts are removed, reduce the heat to medium/ low and add the lemon juice and capers. I used about 3 or 4 tablespoons for this one, but go with whatever you like. I also crush a few of the capers with a fork to get them to release some of their great briny flavor.

Add about a cup of white wine to deglaze the pan. With a wooden spoon, use the wine to help you scrape up all the browned bits left in the pan. That's pure flavor!

I have a standing rule when it comes to using wine for cooking: Garbage in, garbage out. If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it. The so-called "cooking wines" you sometimes find are garbage. This is one of those little gimmicks wineries sometimes use to unload their bottom-of-the-barrel junk they wouldn't normally sell under their own name. Avoid them at all costs and go with what you like. For this dish I used a semi-dry Riesling.

Let the wine reduce slightly and add about half of your chopped parsley.  You could add other ingredients like garlic, shallots or onions at this point, but for this dish, I chose not to.

Once things have mixed together, add about 4 or 5 tablespoons of butter to the pan. This thickens everything into a nice sauce.

Add the chicken breasts back to the pan to re-heat them.
Season with a little salt and pepper, then add the lemon zest.

Spoon the sauce over the breasts as they heat back up.

For a side dish, I made honey glazed baby carrots.
I steamed them till they were fork tender, drained the water, then added a couple tablespoons of honey, some butter and some lemon juice and stirred till the liquid was mostly gone.

To plate, place the breasts on the plate, spoon some carrots and sprinkle everything with the rest of the fresh chopped parsley.


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