Marsala is Italy’s most famous fortified wine. It owes much of its rich smoky flavor to the oxidation which takes place during the aging process. There are several styles of Marsala, namely dry (secco), semisweet (semisecco) and sweet (dolce), as well as a number of quality levels, including Fine, Superiore, Superiore Riserva, Vergine and Vergine Soleras. The levels of quality are ranked according to the percentages of alcohol and the number of years of aging in wood.
Marsala is made in the solera, or melding of years, tradition. Kegs with similar vintage tastes are stacked one upon the other, the oldest vintage being on the bottom. When the wine is drawn out of the bottom, or oldest, keg it is refreshed with wine from the one above it, with subsequent replenishment continuing in the same fashion on up to the keg at the very top, the one containing wine from the most recent harvest. Being done this way, the taste remains the same throughout the cycle and potentially every bottle contains wine from the very first vintage.
Marsala wine comes from Marsala, a seaport city located on the Mediterranean coast of the province of Trapani on the island of Sicily. The Sicilians managed to substitute their own wines in place of the standard rum in an English naval shipment in 1798. Since ocean journeys were long in those seafaring days brandy was added to allow the wine to last longer and give it resistance to temperature changes. Demand grew once the British had a taste of this fortified wine and Marsala subsequently became very popular.
Marsala partners extremely well with chicken in the Italian dish we know as Chicken Marsala, a delicious dish traditionally made with chicken cutlets, mushrooms and, of course, Marsala wine. We’ve taken a few culinary liberties to give this wonderful preparation great flexibility for serving a large dinner party, as well as the opportunity to enjoy it as a spectacular left-over dish that reheats beautifully. Rather than pounding the breast meat into cutlets we cut the white meat into generous bite-sized chunks and enhance the flavor of the sauce with the addition of creme fraiche and our homemade demi-glace au boeuf… delicious!
In a medium sized saucepan over moderately high heat pour:
4 C dry (secco) Marsala
Reduce by half and set to the side.
Mix together in a large bowl for dredging:
1 C all-purpose flour
2 T All Purpose Meat rub
Chef’s Note: Combining the flour and the rub in a large paper or plastic bag makes dredging a snap. Simply drop the pieces of chicken into the bag, vigorously shake everything together… and the task is done!
Cut into generous bite-sized pieces:
2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Dredge in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess:
To a heavy 12-inch sauteuse over moderate heat add:
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
When the butter has melted add the seasoned chicken. Do not overcrowd the pan in order to facilitate proper browning. Brown well on all sides in batches, adding additional unsalted butter and extra virgin olive oil to the pan as necessary:
Transfer the browned chicken to a plate or bowl on the side:
To the sauteuse add:
2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
When the butter has melted add:
1 large shallot, minced
Stir the mixture, initiating the deglazing of the pan with the moisture released from the shallots. Add:
8-oz whole baby shitake mushrooms
Cook, stirring frequently, until the shitakes begin to give off their liquid and “wilt”, the additional liquid being sufficient to complete deglazing. Transfer to a dish on the side:
To the sauteuse add, for the roux:
3 T unsalted butter
When the butter has melted add:
5 T all-purpose flour
Whisk continuously, being sure to include the bottom edge of the pan, until the roux is the color of a pecan shell:
2 C chicken stock (low sodium)
Whisk continuously… and use the tip of a wooden spoon to thoroughly incorporate the roux from around the bottom edge of the pan:
When the mixture has fully thickened add:
the reduced Marsala (2 C)
Whisk until sauce is thick and bubbly:
1 T tomato paste
Stir to combine, then season with:
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
the reserved mushrooms
Stir to combine, then add:
1 T demi-glace
2 – 3 T creme fraiche
Stir well to thoroughly incorporate. Add:
the reserved chicken
Mix well to combine all ingredients:
Adjust seasonings, if necessary, and serve piping hot over pasta or steamed rice. Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche, if you wish, and a sprinkling of minced fresh parsley. To enjoy as a left-over meal, if any of this magnificent dish remains, heat gently and add a splash or two of stock if the sauce has thickened. You can also add a splash of Marsala to intensify the flavor, should you choose to do so… Bon Appetit!
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