No one truly knows the real origin of chicken Marsala. It sounds Italian, tastes French, but has become a familiar sight in restaurants all across North America. And the truth is, it’s all of the above.
The legend is that the dish was invented in Italy by French chefs, who were brought there to elevate Italian cooking in the 19th century. Chicken Marsala gets its name from — you guessed it – Marsala wine, a sweet, fortified red wine that comes from Sicily, but that was likely developed under the influence of British port makers. No one actually drinks Marsala wine in the U.S. anymore, and its main claim to fame is to be the basis of several reductionist sauces.
Chicken Marsala then came to the United States with Italian immigrants in the 1900s, who made it a beloved part of the Italian-American canon.
Whether you need encouragement, nourishment or just a really nice meal that comes together easily, this simple chicken Marsala recipe will become an old favorite in no time. There’s a reason we keep going back to classics like chicken Marsala: they simply taste darn good.
Find more recipes by Ksenia Prints on At The Immigrant’s Table.
Choosing the right wine for your chicken marsala
As chicken Marsala gets its name from the eponymous wine, it makes sense that you’ll want to get a good bottle of wine for this. For the best flavor, make sure the wine you’re buying is actually Marsala wine and not a cooking wine, as many of these will have things like corn syrup added to them (all you need to do is look at the ingredients to make sure; if there are no ingredients, then it’s likely regular Marsala wine).
If you really can’t find Marsala wine in the store, you can use the following as replacements: dry sherry, port wine, Madeira wine, or pinot noir. For a non-alcoholic substitute, mix ¼ cup of white grape juice with 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar.
Gather your chicken marsala ingredients
Chicken Marsala has four main components: chicken, mushrooms, Marsala wine and cream. The rest are variations on that theme: some recipes have you add pancetta or bacon, others start by sautéing onions with the mushrooms, and yet others still choose to switch cream for butter. Whichever way you slice it, at its core chicken Marsala is an easy and delectable dish.
To make classic chicken Marsala, you first need to prepare your ingredients. To make four generous servings of chicken, you’ll need two skinless, boneless chicken breasts.
For the sauce, you will need equal parts Marsala wine, chicken stock and heavy cream, though you can also use cooking cream for a less fatty sauce.
For the mushrooms, go with cremini or portobello mushrooms for maximum flavor. You can also use white button mushrooms if that’s all you got. You will want to slice your mushrooms thinly, and set them aside.
Finally, the only seasonings this chicken Marsala needs are a bit of chopped fresh or dry thyme and freshly chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley. (If you ever wondered what’s the difference between curly and flat-leaf parsley, it really is mostly the texture! Curly parsley is a lot more noticeable when you’re biting into it.)
Slice up perfect portions for the chicken marsala
For the perfect portions of chicken Marsala, you’ll want to slice your chicken breasts in half crosswise. How do you do it, you ask? Easy!
Lay your chicken breast on a cutting board. Then, hold the breast down with one hand, while you start slicing across the middle of the chicken from the side with the other hand. You may want to pull your two chicken halves open like a butterfly towards the end, to make it easier to cut through. You should end up with four thinner chicken breasts in total (two from each breast).
Prepare and season the chicken
Then, when your chicken has been sliced, you’ll want to make it even more tender, to better soak up all that Marsala sauce. The easiest way to do this is by placing the chicken in a large freezer bag, and pounding with a rolling pin or a meat tenderizer until each piece is about 1/4 inch thick. Alternatively, you can also place the chicken breasts between two pieces of parchment paper and use the rolling pin or meat tenderizer on that.
Finally, season and flour your chicken. If you were using a Ziploc bag, just add flour, salt and pepper to the bag with the chicken. Seal the bag and shake well, distributing the flour and seasonings evenly.
If you were using parchment paper to tenderize the chicken, then you’ll need to season and coat it with flour in a large bowl.
Break out the frying pan for delicious chicken marsala flavor
Now comes the fun part: frying the chicken! We like to fry chicken Marsala in olive oil, as it gives it a nicer, grassier flavor. However, you can definitely use another cooking oil if you don’t have olive oil.
In a large pan, heat ¼ cup of olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is nice and hot, add the chicken breasts. You only need about 5 minutes on each side before the chicken turns golden and cooks through (a cooked chicken reaches a temperature of 145°F on the inside). You may have to cook in batches if your chicken doesn’t fit in the skillet all at once, but don’t worry — it’s a short cooking process.
Once your chicken has cooked, remove it onto a large baking sheet and let it rest while you prepare the sauce.
Make the sauce for your chicken marsala
Chicken Marsala sauce is really just mushrooms with equal parts of wine, stock and cream. The key to building up the flavor is to cook the mushrooms in butter until they’re nice and browned. Season and taste them to make sure they’re good enough to eat on their own!
Once the mushrooms have fully cooked, it’s time to make the sauce. Add your wine to the pan and allow it to boil for a couple of minutes, until the alcohol evaporates out. Then you add chicken stock to the pan. Once that’s boiling again, add cream and allow the whole mixture to simmer slightly for 5 minutes, until slightly reduced.
As a last flourish of flavor, add thyme and a pinch of salt to the pan and smell the lovely, thick, creamy Marsala sauce that you’ve made.
Bring your chicken and marsala sauce together
The time has come to put the chicken back in the sauce for one final soak. Return the chicken breasts you’ve cooked to the pan and move the sauce around, making sure it gets into all the nooks and crannies.
Simmer the chicken in the sauce for a minute, until the flavors permeate the chicken and it heats through. Swish the pan a few times as a final flourish — it’s okay to be a bit show-offish, as you’re cooking a classic of the Italian-American kitchen, with French roots to boot!
Serve your chicken marsala with pasta or a side salad
When your chicken has cooked through, add a little bit of parsley to the pan, reserving some for the plating. You could serve it as is, but pasta or salad will add something extra to the plate. You can’t go wrong serving your chicken Marsala with some spaghetti pomodoro, for a truly classic Italian meal. Or go light with the favorite side salad of your choice. It’s going to taste amazing either way! Sprinkle some parsley on the plate as you serve.
And don’t forget the glass of wine to go with this delicious Italian-American meal.
Chicken Marsala is a classic Italian-American dish with a bit of French influence to boot. Not only does this recipe look rather elegant on the plate, but it comes together easily in just a half hour and tastes delicious.
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
- ½ cup all-purpose flour, for coating
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or as needed
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or as needed
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 5-6 cups (1 lb) cremini or portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 cup sweet Marsala wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- ¼ cup freshly chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
- Place the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board. Slice chicken breasts in half, cutting across (you should end up with four thinner chicken breasts in total).
- Place chicken breasts in a large Ziploc bag, and pound with a rolling pin or a meat tenderizer until each piece is about ¼ inch thick.
- Add flour, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper to the bag with chicken. Close the Ziploc bag and shake well, distributing the flour and seasonings evenly.
- In a large pan, heat ¼ cup of olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is nice and hot, add chicken breasts. Fry for 5 minutes on each side until golden, turning once. You may have to cook in batches if the pieces don’t fit all at once. Remove the chicken to a large plate or baking sheet.
- Lower heat to medium. Add butter. Add mushrooms and sauté until they have shrunk and browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Add wine to the pan and allow to boil for a couple of minutes. Add chicken stock to the pan. Add cream and allow to simmer slightly for 5 minutes, until slightly reduced. Add thyme to pan. Season slightly with salt.
- Return chicken to the pan. Simmer gently for a minute until flavors permeate the chicken and it warms through. Taste and correct seasonings as needed.
- Garnish chicken marsala with chopped parsley and serve immediately.
- Chicken marsala will keep in fridge for up to three days.