Hardly a visit to Chicago goes by that I don’t make an early stop at a favorite neighborhood Italian spot, Mario’s Table. More likely than not my dinner of choice is their veal piccata – it’s a classic!
Extolling the virtues of this dish to friends who I have over for dinner on occasion, and who hearing that professed a real love for chicken piccata, I took that as a challenge. With veal being relatively unattainable in supermarkets (other than ground, perhaps, for meatballs), the choice was easy, and chicken piccata it was.
Like so many traditional dishes (and chicken piccata is really an Italian-American dish, not purely Italian), there is an abundance of recipes out there, but after some research I settled on the one below. This one doesn’t have wine (which is one of the distinguishing differences between recipes), and doesn’t call for any flour or cornstarch to add some thickness to the sauce. I made it straightforward, but will add some thickening the next time, along with a few other adjustments I’ll cover in the TIPS. This one is also quite adaptable as to the number it serves. You’ll see.
So, grab some chicken breasts, olive oil, butter, capers, and lemons, and let’s get to cooking.
2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
All-purpose flour, for dredging
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (if available)
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Then dredge the chicken in flour and shake off any excess.
In an large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil. When the butter and olive oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Once browned, flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes. Remove the chicken and transfer it to a plate (cover with foil to help stay warm).
Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter and add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil. When the temperature is back up to a sizzle, cook the 2 other pieces of chicken as you did the first two; then add them to the plate. Remove the pan from the heat.
Being careful to avoid any steam or splatter, add the lemon juice, stock, and capers to the pan; return the pan to the stove and bring it to a boil. Be sure to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan for more flavor. (Adding liquid to a hot pan and using that to ease the removal of anything that’s clung to the pan from cooking the chicken is called ‘deglazing’, if you’ve ever heard that and wondered what it was.)
Once boiling and the pan is deglazed, return all of the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the sauce and whisk it vigorously to emulsify and smooth it.
Pour the sauce over the chicken, garnish with parsley, and enjoy!
There are alternatives to butterflying chicken breasts. Some supermarkets carry already ‘butterflied’ breasts; or you might ask the butcher if they can do it for you. They’ll have a knife sharp enough to make it easy. Too, some supermarkets carry thin-sliced breasts. Explore your options.
I imagine that one of the gluten free flours, like King Arthur, would work as well if you need a gluten-free alternative.
I made the mistake of letting my olive oil heat a bit before I added the butter the first time. Big mistake, as it sputtered and splattered not quite all over the place, but enough. Heat them at the same time. Alternatively, clarified butter (ghee) would tend to be less splatter prone.
I did not remove my pan from the heat before adding the lemon juice, stock, and capers. Another big mistake. It needs to cool a bit to prevent a lemon and chicken stock steam bath. So let it cool a bit, add the lemon juice, stock, and capers, and return it to the heat. Much better.
If you want wine, a sauvignon blanc would probably work best, and gauge the amount in consideration of the other liquids so that when you add the chicken back in you don’t spend an inordinate amount of time letting it reduce.
Once you’ve put the pan back on the heat and are reducing it, that’s the time to decide if you want to thicken it. If so, you can dust in a little flour, being careful not to go overboard. Cornstarch works, too (especially if you’re going gluten free), but you’ll want to mix it in some water to form a slurry before adding. Otherwise, you’ll be chasing that lump of cornstarch all over the pan trying to break it up.
Sides? I served mine over a small amount of linguini. In Chicago, their piccata is served over angel hair pasta. Not a pasta person? A creamy polenta would work.
Regardless the route you take, you’re gonna have fun, and with all of the ingredients out and at hand, this dish doesn’t take long to prepare. That just gives you more time to savor every lemony, buttery, capery bite. Again, enjoy!!!
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