Marsala is an indigenous fortified wine frequently used in Sicilian cooking. There are two varieties of Marsala – sweet and dry. Sweet Marsala is savored as a desert wine and used mainly for making desserts. Dry Marsala, which is less sweet, is enjoyed as an aperitif and used for making savory dishes. I once ruined a sautéed soft shell crab dish I was making by grabbing the wrong bottle – sweet Marsala instead of dry. I had the crabs shipped in from Maryland for an intimate Valentine’s Day dinner with my husband. It was cloyingly sweet and I tried to temper the dish with some white wine but the damage was already done. That was an expensive lesson learned. So, be careful with which kind of Marsala you are using when cooking!
One other important thing about using Marsala – don’t reach for that cheap bottle that has been sitting in your cabinet, collecting dust, for several years. Enjoy it within a few weeks’ time for optimum flavor. The largest producers of quality Marsala are Cantini Florio and Pellegrino. Marsala is a wine after all, and its flavor is at peak when the bottle is first opened.
Chicken Marsala is almost always made with chicken breasts but it can also be made using the whole chicken. It’s a basic and simple recipe; however, I like to add pancetta and mushrooms to this dish. The earthiness of the mushrooms and Marsala complement each other. Although not orthodox, if you’re a fan of cream sauces, you can add a ½ cup of heavy cream to the sauce at the end. This dish is delicious served over spaghetti, noodles, or mashed potatoes.
(Pollo al Marsala)
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 4 servings.
1 (3-4 pound) chicken, washed and cut into 8-10 pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced pancetta
8 ounces sliced white or cremini mushrooms
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup dry Marsala
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1. BROWN THE CHICKEN: Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Heat the olive oil and half of the butter in a large, deep-skillet or Dutch oven over high heat. Working in 2 batches, add half of the chicken pieces and brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter.
2. COOK AND SIMMER CHICKEN: Reduce heat to medium-high. Add the onion, pancetta, and garlic to the skillet. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until onions become soft. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly, sprinkle in the flour and stir until combined. Stir in the Marsala, chicken stock, and parsley. Add in the chicken pieces, cover with a lid, and simmer for approximately 40 minutes, until chicken is tender. Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving platter. Stir remaining butter and lemon juice into the sauce. Spoon sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with additional minced parsley if desired.