Perfect Chicken Marsala

Updated on December 17, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Learn how to make a great chicken marsala
Learn how to make a great chicken marsala | Source

You Can Thank an Englishman

The history of chicken marsala begins as the result of a near shipwreck. If not for a storm-tossed sailor the world might never have learned of marsala.

Our story begins with the aborted voyage of a merchant named John Woodhouse. In 1773, Mr. Woodhouse set sail from Liverpool, England; his destination was the port of Mazara del Vallo where he hoped to load his brig with soda ash (an industrial compound used for cleaning). Fortunately for us, a storm forced an unscheduled landing at the port of Marsala.

At that time, Marsala was famous for its many inns. Mr. Woodhouse took advantage of this happy misfortune and sampled the best that the tavern-owners had to offer. It was heady, rich, nutty, and reminiscent of fine sherry and port. No longer interested in shipping soda ash, he purchased 50 barrels of the beverage (each one was 400 liters). He feared that the wine might not endure the long voyage so further fortified each barrel with wine brandy. And by that one simple act, the drink we know as marsala was born.

The Components

Chicken Breasts

There are times that buying a value-sized package of chicken parts (let's say that you are making fried or barbecued chicken for a large backyard gathering) is perfectly acceptable.

This is not one of those times.

If you are making chicken marsala, you are creating a meaningful meal for someone you love—the expense for perfect, blemish-free mushrooms and a bottle of dry marsala wine demands an organic, hand-trimmed lovely chicken breast. Spend the few dollars more.

You won't be cooking those breasts as is; they need to be split horizontally into thin cutlets so that they will cook quickly without drying out. If you've never done this before, don't fret. My friend Kenji has produced a video to show you exactly how to do it.

Cremini mushrooms
Cremini mushrooms | Source

Cremini Mushrooms

Cremini mushrooms (sometimes labeled as baby bellas) are the mushroom of choice for this dish. You don't want to use an exotic (such as oyster or chanterelle) because they have their own unique flavors and textures and, as such, should be allowed to take center stage.

If you cannot find cremini, white button mushrooms will work, but I prefer the earthy flavor of the cremini.

Marsala

Today, this is the star of the show, the shining light. Please, I beg you, do not purchase a bottle of "cooking marsala." You will find this abomination on the same shelf as apple cider vinegar and canola oil. Cooking wines are cheap, full of preservatives, and riddled with salt. Nasty stuff!

However, you don't have to spend a day's wages either. I drinkable marsala can be had for around $10. (By the way, choose the bottle that is labeled "dry," not "sweet.")

The Recipe

I made this dish for my husband's birthday. Because I wanted an over-the-top meal, of course, I scoured the internet for the absolute best chicken marsala. The video by Tasty caught my eye—it seemed amazing, and just the way I wanted my hubby's birthday meal to look.

But, when I watched a second time I noticed a few steps or techniques that could be improved upon to make this even better. I tweaked the instructions for my own use, but then I read the comments. Here is a sampling:

  • The flavor of alcohol from the marsala wine was too strong in this dish for me. If I made it again I would use half of the wine the recipe called for. I also agree with another reviewer that recommended corn starch to thicken the sauce. Mine can out very watery and thin. The dish was okay but the recipe needs adjustments.
  • I added corn starch to thicken the sauce and would use a little less lemon juice.
  • Do not add more marsala wine if you are doubling this recipe! Mine came out sour and odd tasting. There's nothing like cooking and then hating the taste of your own food.
  • I tripled the recipe and only added 1 1/2 cups of the wine and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. I also added red bell peppers and onion to the mushrooms. To thicken, I added a can of cream of chicken soup after the wine cooked off and seasoned my linguine with garlic powder, pepper, a little butter, and olive oil. It turned out great.

Oh, Dear!

I recognize that some of the problems stem from lack of cooking skill; you need to let that wine reduce really well (patience is a virtue), but cream of chicken soup? It was then that I sighed, hit the "delete" button, and set out to totally revamp the recipe.

Here are the changes and why I made them:

  • Two cups of marsala were changed to part marsala and part broth so that there would be enough cooking liquid without the dish tasting too "boozy."
  • Reconstituted porcini mushrooms were added for extra umami flavor.
  • Unflavored gelatin added to the simmering liquid to substitute for the bone-rich stocks that are typically available in a restaurant (but not home) kitchen.
  • I reduced the amount of sliced mushrooms because of the added porcini.
  • The amount of garlic increased (because garlic is amazing).
  • Added dry thyme for flavor.
  • Reduced the amount of lemon (you only need a tiny splash if you use dry marsala).
  • Increased the amount of butter and added it off-heat so that it would emulsify, not melt.

The following recipe is my adaptation of the Tasty presentation. I relied on the good advice of the website Serious Eats for much of my inspiration.

Sophisticated and oh, so tasty!
Sophisticated and oh, so tasty! | Source

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 packet (2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/4 cups dry marsala wine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 chicken cutlets (1 chicken breast, split in half horizontally and pounded thin, see above video)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

Yield: 2 servings

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken stock in a microwave-safe container (a liquid measuring cup is perfect for this) and heat for 1 minute in the microwave.
  2. Stir the dried mushrooms into the warmed stock and set aside for 30 minutes to steep and cool. Strain the stock, and add it to the marsala. Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the mushrooms (it contains so much yummy umami flavor). Finely chop the now reconstituted mushrooms and set aside.
  3. Combine marsala and stock in a liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and set aside.
  4. Place olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.
  5. Season prepared chicken with salt and pepper and then dredge with flour, shaking off excess.
  6. Add chicken to pan and cook, turning once, until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside. At this point, the chicken should be cooked through because it is only 1/4-inch thick.
  7. Add the fresh mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until they have released their juices and are well browned, about 10 minutes.
  8. Add garlic, thyme, and porcini mushrooms to the pan and cook about 1 minute more. Add more oil if needed and don't let the garlic to burn!
  9. Give the marsala/stock/gelatin mixture a gentle whisk to combine and then pour into the pan with the mushrooms. Bring to a boil, whisking to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
  10. Allow the liquid in the pan to reduce by to about 3/4 cup (yes, that's a lot).
  11. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Taste sauce for seasoning; add lemon juice as needed.
  12. Return chicken to pan and return pan to heat. Simmer over low until chicken is heated through. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Lum

    Comments

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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Chris, I'm so glad that you stopped by for a visit. It is easy, it tastes decadent, and you won't be disappointed.

      • cam8510 profile image

        Chris Mills 

        4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

        You got my attention with this one. I love to cook, I'm putting it on the list. Great job making this interesting as well as tempting.

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        4 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Linda

        Oops!! Sorry, didn't realise and yes explaining the difference between the two might be good.

        Pataks is an indian company that was started by an enterprising fellow back in the sixties. He was a new immigrant to Britain and got fed up with what the British made and calked curry so he got family recipes and started importing the spices. Pretty soon there was enough demand he was making up 'spice kits' and the like.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Lawrence, I see that I have (unintentionally) fooled you. Chicken tikka masala and chicken marsala are two totally different dishes. But you have inspired me--I think I'd best write about the tikka masala in the near future, don't you? (And I'm not familiar with Pataks kits).

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        4 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Linda

        Did you know that if national dishes were decided on the quantity consumed in a country then Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding would be the English second national dish and Chicken Tikka Massala would be the English national dish!

        As for me, I have to admit, with Indian food I cheat and buy the Pataks kits.

        At least they say they have no MSG or preservatives, and the spices are seperate so you get the feel of making it from scratch!

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Shauna, thank you for your kind words. I'm glad that the photos turned out and yes, it was really quite yummy. One of my daughter's favorites. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        7 weeks ago from Central Florida

        Linda, this sounds so yummy. I love the changes you made to the recipe and love the photo of what you put on the table! I'd love to see more of your recipes and photos in this series.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you my dear friend.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        2 months ago from london

        You remind me of Bill. He is approaching another 100 Mailbags now. But you are better at systematisation. Let's go forward - you and I - to 2020, following the inner star of Bethlehem, to the house of Joseph. Peace and good will to you.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you so much, Angel. May you have a blessed Christmas.

      • Angel Guzman profile image

        Angel Guzman 

        2 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

        Mmm sounds delicious Linda. Who doesn't love a quality chicken marsala? This is definitely on my cook at home list but also eat at a restaurant too! Happy Holidays Linda and Happy New Year. As always your food articles inspire hunger and the curious mind.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Wessman, it doesn't have to be expensive to be good. But "cooking wine" contains salt. That's the big difference.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Oh you asked for this story:

        Years ago I had an apartment in Dallas, and I was out of a job, and so, I was losing the place. I had some money saved, but couldn't find another job.

        I went to the liquor store across the street, and bought something which was supposed to be cooking wine, which was the cheapest thing they had, and I wasn't wanting to spend.

        I attempted to drink it. It was a terrible experience, and I'll never forget how awful it tasted.

        When it comes to me learning to cook with wine, which is an adventure I've not yet started, I'll definitely be buying what is called for, but probably not expensive versions :/

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Wesman, you're going all renegade on us, aren't you? Should I feel guilty or proudly display the grin on my face because I've brought you over to the dark side?

        Promise me you will never touch the stuff sold in stores as "cooking wine." It's not wine, it's an abomination. If you can't drink it, don't cook with it.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Gosh, you've a lucky husband!

        I'm interested in this because I've never had it. I came from one of those homes where alcohol was never anywhere to be found, and so I've wound up a person who swims in the stuff.

        I also really like mushrooms, and probably this is partially because my father simply won't eat them. I'm very fond of them, and probably would have been regardless.

        I'm going to make a point of learning to cook with wine.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Good morning Manatita. Masala is not merely marsala minus the "R." It's an entirely different dish. Marsala is the wine which flavors, in this case, the chicken. Masala is a crisp cake made from rice and lentils. Thank you--I will add this to my list of articles to write for 2020.

        You are my inspiration.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Eric, we're all friends sitting around the kitchen table, having a cup of coffee and talking and sharing. Of course you can talk to Pamela (and me too; I'm all ears on this topic).

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Oh my goodness Bill, I think that's two in a row! I know you like chicken, and dark chocolate (not together). I didn't plan on making you fall in love with me, it just happened (LOL).

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Lorelei, it's not the type of dish people typically prepare on a weeknight for family. It's not horribly time-consuming but it tastes "special" and so I'm not surprised that you've not had a chance to try it. Perhaps over the holidays?

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        2 months ago from london

        I eat some kind of masala here, which is probably masala Dosa. I have not had it for a while, but its vegetarian. I believe we spell the word without the 'r' here. Peace.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        How fun is this. Linda irregardless if I follow exactly your instructions. Like I might add a bit more lemon. I get your point though. I hope I am not out of line here but I will be back about Pamela about the pain.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 months ago from Olympia, WA

        Stop the presses!

        This I would gladly eat!

        You can now retire as a writer and chef. The mountain has been climbed. lol

      • Ladymermaid profile image

        Lorelei Cohen 

        2 months ago from Canada

        I love how you have added the history of this wine into your recipe. I have never heard of this dish or the wine so really enjoyed the reading. Thank you for sharing this very interesting recipe and the tips that go along with its creation.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Pamela, I'm so sorry that you aren't able to enjoy the process of cooking as much as you would like. I fear that someday soon that will be my fate as well. If your sister can pay you a visit perhaps the two of you can make it together. It's definitely a dish you want to share with a loved one.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, I like to serve mine with brown rice; couscous works too (and it takes just a few minutes to cook). If I'm feeling ambitious, I like to make my own pasta. What do you think, is it time to write an article on homemade pasta, or are there already too many out there?

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        2 months ago from Sunny Florida

        I have never made this dish and I know it is delicious. I enjoyed reading the history. Your detailed instructions are sure to make a masterpiece. I am not sure that I can stand at the stove for the amount of time this recipe requires as my back pain rules my activity. I would love to try it however.Thanks for sharing this great recipe. I am passing it along to my sister.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        This is a definite “save and try” recipe. Chicken Marsala is amazing if done well and because I do not tend to stray once I find a favorite dish, I’ve tasted many restaurants’ versions. What do you present yours with — potatoes, noodles, etc.?

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