Chicken Marsala is one of those special dishes that seems only possible to enjoy in a restaurant prepared by a chef, but that’s definitely not the case. Not only is it an approachable recipe to make at home, I consider it to be a quick and easy weeknight meal.
The dish is comprised of lightly breaded and browned chicken cutlets in a rich and savory mushroom sauce. The ingredient that makes this recipe so identifiable and delicious is the Marsala wine that’s used to prepare the sauce. Marsala is a coastal town in Sicily and is known for its history, and its delicious fortified wine called…. you guessed it… Marsala!
Fortified wines, such as Port, Sherry, Madeira, Vermouth and Marsala are wines that have been fortified with a distilled spirit to increase the alcohol content and help to preserve it. Fortified wines can be labeled as sweet or dry, which all depends on when the winemaker adds the spirit. If the spirit is added before fermentation is complete, the wine will be sweeter. If added after fermentation, the wine will be dry.
Should you use sweet or dry Marsala in your Chicken Marsala recipe? It doesn’t make a huge difference, and either option will produce delicious results, but I would go for dry because the sweet Marsala has a bit too much sugar for such a savory dish. Ironically, I used sweet Marsala for this dish… if you read my blog last month, then you know I made some very adulty Tiramisu Cupcakes that called for sweet Marsala, so that’s the type I had on hand, and it was delicious! Not once did I think “Gee… I wish I had made this with dry Marsala”.
The first step in the recipe is to pound your chicken breasts to a uniform thickness, or purchase chicken cutlets if you would like to skip this step.
I sandwich my chicken between two pieces of parchment paper, but you can use plastic wrap or even place your chicken breasts in a resealable bag. Use the flat side (not the spiky side) of a meat mallet or a rolling pin to gently pound the breasts.
Did you notice I used the word gently? Don’t take your aggressions out on the poor chicken. It's such a tender cut of meat that can tear easily, so just zero in on the thickest part of the breast and work in a circular motion, not straight up and down. They don’t need to be paper thin, just even in thickness.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and dredge the breasts through all-purpose flour, shaking off any excess. To make this gluten free, swap the wheat flour for rice flour or potato starch.
Now it’s time to brown your chicken breasts. I love using cast iron at home, but you can use any sauté pan that you like. Just be sure to heat it over medium-high heat, get a good swirl of olive oil and butter in the pan (the butter will help with the browning and the olive oil will prevent the butter from burning). Cook the breasts, in batches if necessary- don’t overcrowd the pan, until beautiful and golden brown on the first side.
Flip the breasts, cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, remove and set aside. All in all, the amount of time the chicken spends in the pan is 5 to 6 minutes. But Sara, isn’t the chicken going to be raw? I promise it won’t because you pounded the breasts, and they are even in thickness. You can always use an instant read thermometer to be sure; they should be 150° (they are going to go back in the pan once the sauce is done, so I cook them 5° under the target temperature of 155°).
Now comes the exciting part of making the sauce, and the first step is to caramelize your mushrooms.
I can’t stress enough how critical this step is to develop the rich flavor of your final sauce. Don’t rush this, so be prepared to spend time letting your mushrooms cook in the pan until they are very golden brown around the edges. Once the mushrooms are GBD (golden brown delicious), add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds so it doesn’t burn.
Deglaze (adding a flavorful wine to the pan in order to release all of the browned bits), with the Marsala and simmer until reduced by about half of its original volume. Add the chicken stock-cornstarch mixture and simmer until just ever so slightly thickened. Thickened isn’t even the right word, because the sauce should still be pretty loose, but not as loose as a jus. The addition of cornstarch is just enough to give the sauce body, but not make it thick.
We served our Chicken Marsala with oven-baked polenta, but a white or brown rice pilaf would be another excellent side. Add a side salad or your favorite roasted veggies to round out the meal, and you have yourself a very chefy dinner to be proud of!
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 4 servings
Active time: 35 minutes
Start to finish: 40 minutes
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
All-purpose flour, for dredging
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, rough chopped
- In a measuring cup, stir together the chicken stock and cornstarch. Set aside.
- Place the chicken breasts in-between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Using the smooth side of a meat mallet, pound the breasts until they are uniform in thickness.
- Season both sides with salt and pepper to taste and dredge in flour, shaking off any extra.
- Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and butter. Cook the breasts, presentation side down, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and continue to cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. The chicken should be just about cooked through at this point. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside while making the sauce.
- Heat the same sauté pan over medium heat and add the sliced mushrooms. Sauté, adding more butter if necessary, until they are very well caramelized.
- Add the garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds.
- Deglaze with the Marsala wine and reduce by half of its original volume.
- Re-stir the chicken stock-cornstarch mixture, and pour into the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Stir in the parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Return the chicken to the pan, and cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.
Learning these approachable-yet-critical cooking skills are so important to your success and confidence in the kitchen, because they can then be applied to several other recipes. If you’re an experienced or new home cook, and are looking for an incredible culinary experience, I highly recommend our Culinary Boot Camp. I have taught several of these classes, and I can tell you first hand that it’s a life changing experience. Be prepared to have many new culinary doors open and look at food through a different lens!