This past Sunday was my husband's 50th Birthday. He was adamant that he didn't want a party or big celebration and in fact, said he'd like for the day to quietly slip by without notice. ( Why does it seem that men have a harder time with those milestone birthdays?) I briefly considered granting his wish like a good wife would, but I come from a family where occasions like birthdays are cause for celebration! I just couldn't let this milestone birthday pass by without doing something! I have to point out that there was also a little 'payback' element involed here as well. On my 50th, my husband had a huge sign made up for our front lawn wishing me a Happy 50th...with a picture of me at 15 years of age in flannel shirt, volleyball shorts and pigtails in the middle of doing household chores and smacking of some serious teenage attitude! (It wasn't a particularly flattering picture, not by a long shot and was the result of a conspiracy between my husband, daughters and parents). So I pulled off a little conspiracy stunt of my own for Stephen's birthday and, with the tremendous help of his co-worker, Gillian, was able to get a picture of 5 year old Stephen onto a video advertising board on the parking lot of their office building that ran every 3 minutes....for 3 days! Gillian took it a step further and had the same pciture inserted into this week's edition of the local magazine they work for. Stephen claimed to be annoyed with me, but the small smile on his face belied his claim!
Having done my major 50th birthday prank, I compromised on his wish not to have a party and we agreed to having a 'cocktails and nibbles' thing on Sunday afternoon for close family. Even though it was family, whenever I can get an instant, unbiased test kitchen together, I'm going to try a few food ideas on them and that meant some planning, prepping and cooking. (That's a blog for another day!). Despite the work I had ahead of me for Sunday's get-together, I didn't want to sacrifice Date Night at Home Saturday night either. With everthing else on my plate, our Date Night at Home meal had to be easy yet special. Enter Chicken Marsala...easy to make while still being luxuriously indulgent enough for a special romantic meal with my hubby before he crossed the threshold into his 50's.
Chicken Marsala is a popular Italian American dish made from chicken cutlets, mushrooms and Marsala wine. It dates back to the 19th century when it most likely originated with English families living in the western Sicily region where Marsala is produced. English trader, John Woodhouse, landed in the port of Marsala, Italy, in 1773 and discoverd the local wine produced in that region, which was aged in wooden casks and tasted similar to Spanish and Portugese fortified wines that were popular in England at the time.
Woodhouse recognized that the 'in perpetuum' process raised the alcholic content level and alcoholic taste of the wine while also preserving these characteristics during long distance sea travel. 'In perpetuum' is a process for aging liquids such as wine, beer, vinegar and brandy by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages. Barrels are stacked in rows, one on top of the other, and the liquid is transferred from barrel to barrel, top to bottom, with the oldest mixtures being in the barrels on the lowest level. Marsala first received Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) designation status in 1969. DOC status is the equivalent to PDO, the term used by the European Union certifying that a wine has 'Protected Designation of Origin' status, meaning it is made from grapes from a specific region, produced in that region, following traditional production techniques for that region.
There are three sweetness levels of Marsala, (dry, semi-sweet and sweet), and it is further classfied based on it's color and how long it's been aged as follows:
Oro, which has a golden color
Ambra, which has an amber color
Rubino, which is ruby in color
Fine - minimal aging, typically less than 1 year
Superiore - aged at least 2 years
Superiore Riserva - aged at least 4 years
Vergine elo Soleras - aged for 5 years
Vergine elo Soleras e Vergine elo Soleras Riserva - aged for at least 10 years
Marsala is usually served as an apertif between the first and second courses of a meal. Contemporary diners will serve drier versions chilled with Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Ruguefort and other spicy cheese, with fruits and pastries. Sweeter Marsala is served at room temperature as a dessert wine.
Marsala is frequently used in cooking. A typical Marsala sauce, for example, involves reducing the wine almost to a syrup with onions or shallots, then adding mushrooms and herbs. It's also used in some risotto recipes and to produce rich Italian desserts like zabaglione, tiramisu and short cake but perhaps the most popular Marsala dish is Chicken Marsala.
You can make Chicken Marsala in under 30 minutes, which worked perfectly for me. First I took two chicken breasts and pounded them in a large zipperlock baggie until they were approximately 1/3 of an inch thick. I then cut the pounded chicken breasts in half widthwise and dredged each piece of chicken in all purpose flour seasoned with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, shaking off any excess. In a large nonstick skillet heated over medium high heat, I added 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter. I then added the chicken fillets and browned them on both sides, for about 5 minutes per side. When the chicken fillets were nicely golden brown, I transferred them onto a plate and set them aside until I was ready to add them back into my marsala sauce.
After removing the chikcen, I added 1 cup of sliced mini portobello mushrooms and sauteed them for about 5 minutes before adding in 1/2 cup Marsala and 1/4 cup Sherry. (My original recipe calls for cream Sherry such as Olorosso, but I only had a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry on hand, so that's what I used). I reduced the heat to medium and let the sauce simmer and reduce by half before adding my chicken breasts back into the skillet. While my sauce was thickening, I brought a large pot of salted water to boil to cook my pasta in. (Another substitution here: normally, Chicken Marsala would be served with fettucine or linguine noodles but II only had fresh angel hair pasta on hand, so that's what I used).
After the sauce had thickened, I added the cooked chicken fillets back into the skillet, covered the skillet and let the sauce thicken further for about 10 minutes, flipping the chicken breasts after five minutes. When my pasta was ready, I was ready to serve the meal.
Chicken Marsala isn't a rich dish but it's certainly luxurious! The chicken absorbed all of the glorious flavours of the syrupy Marsala and sherry sauce and the aroma was spectacular making this meal perfect for a romantic night in. Chicken Marsala is one of those dishes that looks like you went through a lot of trouble when really, other than pounding the chicken breasts, it couldn't be easier!
Because the alcohol from the Marsala and the Sherry cooks off, and by using boneless, skinless chicken breasts and extra virgin olive oil, not only is Chicken Marsala easy, it's healthied-up too! While the initial cost for the Marsala will probably set you back about $17, you'll have plenty on hand to create more delicious meals using Marsala.
Date Night At Home Chicken Marsala.....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!