I do not typically order a chicken dish when I go out for a nice dinner but chicken piccata is one exception. I have always loved the smooth lemony caper sauce that covers a nice breaded thin tender piece of chicken. I am very fond of pasta so I particularly love to order chicken piccata from an Italian restaurant with a nice side of angel hair pasta. Moretti’s of Arlington has a great one.
Many people (including myself until the other day when I googled it) mistake chicken piccata for a traditional Italian dish, but most articles point to the fact that it is an Italian-American dish created in America sometime during the 1930s. “Piccata” actually refers to a traditional European method of fattening up a lean cut of meat (i.e. veal). An article on Chow states that, The confusion seems to have stemmed from the Italian word piccata, which can be translated as the past tense of piccarsi, “to prick oneself.” The pricking in the original dish, however, didn’t come from the piquant combination of lemon and capers, but from the treatment that was given to the veal: larding. It was common until the end of the 19th century in Europe to “lard” lean meats—that is, use a larding needle, a cooking instrument that resembles a knitting needle, to thread slivers of pork fat in the meat to make it more tender and rich. Thread slivers of pork fat into the meat? Hmmm. Not exactly appetizing but the point is that piccata is really not the flavor description as much as the description of the way the meat was prepared to be cooked. Interesting stuff; albeit rather irrelevant to us today, interesting nonetheless.
So somehow lemon and capers became the characteristic flavors of this Italian-American dish we simply know now as Piccatta. When it is made well, it totally melts in your mouth. It’s essential to get the chicken thin. It will be more tender and will absorb the sauce better. So when you are staring at that package of chicken breasts in your fridge or freezer and wanting to transform them into a pretty decadent meal, give this one a try!
3 chicken breasts, sliced horizontally and pounded thin
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2-1 cup flour
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter (divided)
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
3/4 cup dry white wine (like chardonnay)
1 cup chicken broth
juice of 1/2 of a lemon (use other half for lemon wedges garnish)
2 Tbsp capers, drained
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Measure and prep all ingredients so once you start cooking, everything is ready when you need it. Cut chicken breasts in half horizontally and pound them until about 1/4 inch thick). Salt and pepper both sides of chicken breasts. Dredge in flour. In large skillet (cast iron works nicely), heat 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Cook chicken breasts about 4 minutes on each side making sure to get them browned. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet and put in the oven (depending on thickness, cook them a few more minutes at 325 degrees until done or if already cooked through, keep them warm in oven at 200 degrees).
Add sliced garlic to skillet and sauté for 1 minute. Add wine and deglaze the pan. Simmer at a medium heat for 3-4 minutes then add chicken broth. Continue to simmer at a medium heat until reduced by half, about 5-10 minutes (don’t worry about having the heat turned up, this is essential for reducing a broth-based sauce). Add lemon juice, capers and half of the parsley. Remove from heat and swirl in 1 Tbsp butter. Salt, pepper, and add lemon juice to taste. Place chicken back into pan and spoon sauce over top of the chicken and garnish with more parsley. Serve with rice, angel hair pasta, or risotto and a green vegetable or salad.