Sunday, March 31, 2013

Experiment # 24: Chicken Marsala

Several years ago, when my husband was then my boyfriend, he took me to a restaurant in Sunnyvale, CA called Villa Napoli.  The decor was certainly dated with 80s fabric scalloped window treatments and our waitress had blue eye shadow. I was not sure what I was getting into that night, but when we ordered the Chicken Marsala, my eyes were opened.  It was the most succulent chicken, perfectly cooked and the sauce was heavenly.   Since we don't live near there any more, it's been a long time since we had chicken marsala.  I believe we tried it a few years ago at a local restaurant and it was just ok. We were disappointed.  It was nothing like that amazing Chicken Marsala from Villa Napoli.

A few months ago, my husband and I were thinking about that chicken marsala and wondered if we could make it as delicious as that night at Villa Napoli.  At that time, I even thought of posting the results of that meal, but there was a mishap with some tomato paste and the results were not chicken marsala.

My brother and his wife were visiting yesterday and the story of the chicken marsala came up.  We thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try to correct the mistake from months ago and actually follow the recipe. Well, of course with a few modifications.

The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, a cookbook that I just love.  If you have ever seen the show on PBS you would know that they test each recipe with various iterations until they derive the perfect recipe.  Chicken marsala normally is made with chicken breast as in the original recipe from this cookbook, but we prefer chicken thighs for the flavor so that's what I used.  Here's what I did:

Chicken Marsala from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
3 oz. pancetta, chopped fine
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups sweet marsala
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into 2 pieces
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees.  Spread flour in a shallow dish.

Pound the chicken thighs until they are more even.  Pat dry with paper towels then season with salt and pepper.  Dredge through the flour to coat and shake off any excess.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and keep warm in the oven.  I had to do a few batches with all the chicken.  I added a little bit more oil to help the chicken brown.

Add the pancetta and mushrooms.  Cook until the pancetta is crisp and the mushrooms are brown about 10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and the tomato paste.  Cook until the tomato paste begins to brown, about 1 minute.  Stir in the Marsala, scraping up any browned bits and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, about 8 minutes.  ( I found the reduction took a lot longer than 8 minutes. Maybe it took 12 minutes?)

Stir in the lemon juice and any accumulated chicken juice.  Turn the heat to low and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time.

Off the heat, stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon the sauce over the chicken before serving.

The chicken was cooked perfectly.  It was moist and delicious and this may be due to the finishing in the oven while the sauce was cooked.  We enjoyed it with a delicious fresh salad with lettuce from our garden.

We thought it was delicious and we will definitely be making this again.  The only critique would be that my husband and I thought the recipe could use more sauce and more mushrooms. The ratio of sauce to chicken might have been a bit off because I used more chicken than the recipe called for: 2 1/2 pounds of chicken thighs instead of 2 pounds of chicken breasts.

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