How to Make Delicious, Classic Chicken Piccata

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I remember my first experience with "piccata" and I'm sad to say that it wasn't a very good one. It was a veal piccata dish, made by an old friend who had invited us to dinner back in the late 70's or very early 80's. It wasn't because it was veal. I like veal. To be totally honest, I have a love/hate relationship with it. I enjoy it immensely (when it's prepared properly) and ground veal also happens to be a very integral ingredient in my meatball recipe. The only "down" side to veal, is that I have to take my emotions completely out of the equation whenever I eat it. It's kind of like the whole venison & Bambi thing. I only order it in certain restaurants and I have to trick my mind into forgetting that I'm eating, well.... you know. Let's just let it go at that, right? I think we'd all have a better rest of the day. In her defense, our friend was a newlywed and a bit inexperienced in the kitchen, so her lack of cooking knowledge left the meat soaked with oil and very... well, chewy. She has improved greatly over the years and is now a very good cook.
 
This is an extremely easy dish to prepare and if you happen to be someone who loves to cook, or who cooks from scratch regularly, you'll most likely have the ingredients on hand in your pantry and fridge. It's quick enough for a weeknight family supper and when presented on a plate with a bit of parsley for garnsh, it will look impressive enough to serve to even your finest company.
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MSF 2017
Classic Chicken Picatta

Serves 4 - (can easily be doubled)

  • 4 Boneless Chicken Breasts, thinly sliced or pounded
  • 3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tbls Capers, rinsed
  • 4 Tbls Butter, divided
  • 2 Cups Chicken Stock or Broth
  • 1/2 Cup Dry Vermouth
  • 1/4 Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 2 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tsp Italian Seasoning
  • Zest from 1 Lg Lemon (2 Tbls)
  • Light Olive or Vegetable Oil
  • Fresh Chopped Parsley, for garnish
If you're using whole chicken breasts, you'll need to butterfly them, cut them in half or pound them down to about a quarter of an inch thickness so that they'll cook evenly and quickly.
 
It's important to have as much of your "prep work" done before you start to cook because it really makes the entire cooking process go much more smoothly. So, take a few minutes to zest and squeeze your lemon(s); Have all of your seasonings and flour ready to go in a container that will fit the size of the meat you're dredging in it; And if there are wet ingredients like the vermouth and chicken stock in this dish, have them all measured out as well. Rinse things like capers and drain them, so that you can just toss them in when the time comes. I also mix my dry seasonings together and put them into a tiny prep bowl or one of the funky measuring spoons I collect. Make sure that the flour or breadcrumbs being used to coat or to dredge meats or vegetables is always seasoned, even when you've seasoned the food itself. Seasoning is all about layers, my friends!
  1. Season both sides of the chicken liberally with the salt, pepper and Italian seasoning mixture. Add any remaining seasoning to the flour. If you don't have any left after seasoning the meat, you can just add the seasonings one by one or make up another slightly smaller bowl of them and add them into the dredging dish or plate. Give the flour and seasoning mixture a good stir to incorporate them well. You don't want any small pockets of overly seasoned flour and large areas that are not seasoned a all.
  2. Using your very clean hands or a pair of tongs, dip each piece of chicken into the flour mixture, turning it over as needed until the chicken is nicely coated. Try not to have any "bald patches" on the meat, so if you're making a larger batch and you run out of your dredge, just add an appropriate amount of flour and your seasonings to the dish and continue the dredging process.
  3. Place the coated chicken pieces onto a plate or sheet of waxed paper until you're done with all of them and your pan is heated and ready to start cooking. You also want to make sure to hold on to any leftover flour mixture for later use in this dish. (**this is specific to this recipe, because it will continue to be cooked for a while after it's second use.)
  4. Add about two teaspoons of light olive or vegetable oil to a large skillet that has been preheating over a medium high flame. Once the oil is distributed well in the skillet and is to the point where it is shimmering, you can start adding your chicken. If it looks like the flour is starting to get dark too quickly or it starts to smoke, turn the heat down a couple of notches to medium (or even medium low) for the remainder of the cooking time.
  5. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it to a clean plate and cover tightly with foil to keep it warm. Maintaining (or returning to) medium to medium high heat, add in the lemon juice and stir with a spatula, scraping up any browned bits and thickened juices (called fond by the French) from the bottom of the skillet. Do this until the bottom of the skillet is "clear" of pretty much all of the fond.
  6. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally, until the lemon juice has reduced slightly. 
  7. Add in the dry vermouth (or white wine) and reduce that by about 1/3rd. Add in 1/2 of the lemon zest and the capers. Stir or gently swirl the pan to incorporate both. If you aren't seeing small bubbles around the edges of the skillet, you'll want to turn the heat up a tiny bit until you do.
  8. Take about a tablespoon of the reserved seasoned flour mixture and add it to the skillet. Stir the flour into the liquid in the pan until it is the consistency of heavy cream. Keep stirring it for about a minute to cook out any "raw" flour taste. Next, slowly pour in about 2/3 of the chicken stock and set the remaining stock aside.
  9. Return the chicken to the skillet, making sure to get any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Those juices are pretty much "liquid gold" because they contain a lot of flavor! Continue cooking the chicken, turning it over from time to time to coat it in the sauce and heat it back through. (no more than 2 to 3 minutes) The liquid in the skillet is going to continue to reduce and thicken during this time, so that's why you'll need that reserved 1/3rd of the stock.
  10. Add the rest of the stock and continue cooking and turning the chicken in the sauce that's forming. Next, add the second 1/2 of the lemon zest and stir well. This will add a nice kick of fresh lemon flavor to the sauce that will have dissipated while it's been cooking. After cooking for a about 2 more minutes and the chicken is heated back through, remove it from the pan to a warm platter or individual plates and serve right away.
We love to serve long cooking jasmati rice with this dish, but you can pair it with your own favorite rice, buttered noodles, potatoes - or whatever you like best. If you're avoiding or cutting back on carb intake, serve it over a bed of sauteed spinach or alongside your favorite grilled or roasted veggies. No matter what you decide to serve it with, once you've tried it, I think you'll want to make it again and again. It's a bit addictive!
 
Enjoy!
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