I’ve cooked a lot of chicken piccata. I’m not saying I’m the best at it, or that there’s only one way to do it, but there was a time in my life when I cooked the dish dozens of times a night, every night, for months in a row.
I was a young cook at a reputable Italian restaurant that had been around for over a decade, and its clientele was dedicated. They were mostly regulars who lived in the neighborhood and were very devoted to certain menu mainstays, and chicken piccata was one of them.
During piccata season, I got to a point when I could count guests’ orders as they walked into the dining room. “Piccata, piccata, fettuccine, salad, two piccatas…” It became a running joke between the cooks.
That being said, this is how I make chicken piccata. You can dress it up, but the staying power of the dish is in its simplicity. The quality of the finished dish depends as much on how much love you put into it as on the quality of the ingredients, and certainly more than the cost of your equipment.
All you’ll need is a sharp knife; a sturdy cutting board; a meat mallet or empty wine bottle; plastic wrap; a long-handled, heavy-bottomed skillet (stainless steel is preferred); a spatula; a pot with a lid for cooking pasta; and a colander. A whisk is optional. This recipe serves two to four.
- 1 package capellini (angel hair) pasta
- 2 to 4 chicken breasts
- Salt, to taste
- Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
- All-purpose flour, enough to coat chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed, and roughly chopped
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cold butter, plus a few more tablespoons on hand
- 2 tablespoons cold fresh parsley, chopped
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Lemon slices, for garnish
Cook the capellini pasta according to package directions, drain, and keep warm. If you can time it to finish at more or less the same time the chicken is done, even better.
Cover a cutting board with plastic wrap. Place the chicken breasts on the cutting board and cover them with plastic wrap. With a meat mallet or empty wine bottle, gently pound the chicken breasts to about ½-inch thickness, working from the thick end of the breast toward the tapered end, in a side-to-side manner, with lots of love. It’s important not to tear the flesh by being over eager with this step.
Once the chicken is pounded, season it with salt and pepper.
Pour the flour onto a baking sheet or in a shallow bowl. Lightly dredge the chicken, shaking off any excess flour.
In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken, turning the breasts once, until they’re golden brown on both sides and the flesh is firm to the touch, about 3 minutes on each side. It helps keep the pan from getting too hot by cooking as many of the breasts at the same time as possible. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside. Pour off any excess oil.
Next add the sliced garlic and capers to the pan and sauté until fragrant and lovely, about thirty seconds.
Deglaze with white wine, being sure to lift any fond, or chicken love stuck to the pan, with a spatula and gently stir it in. Reduce the wine by half.
This is the step that requires the most love. Channel your inner Emeril Lagasse and approach this step with confidence, and it’ll turn out great:
Turn down the heat as low as it can go. Quickly mount with cold butter (bam!) and then add cold parsley and lemon juice (bam! Bam!), swirling the pan vigorously to create an emulsion, or a mixture in which the fat and proteins in the butter are dispersed throughout the wine and lemon juice, aka a delicious, homogeneous pan sauce. You can use a whisk to help with this step. If the sauce isn’t coming together, then add more butter and keep swirling/whisking.
To serve, place the chicken atop a beautiful nest of capellini. Generously and artfully spoon your sauce love over the dish and garnish with lemon slices. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.