Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chicken Marsala

I spent my childhood summers going back and forth between my grandmother's cottage and my parent's little country inn, both on Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire.  It was an idyllic life for a child.  I remember sleeping in my bathing suit, and my mother or grandmother calling me out of the water for all three meals.  I thought that fingers were supposed to be shriveled.   Clearwater Inn was named that because the depth of the water at the end of dock was 25 feet, and so pure that not only could you clearly see each grain of sand on the bottom, but it was also a class A reservoir.  Many summer cottages simply drank lake water while I was growing up.  
At that time, in the 1950s and 1960s, Sunapee and the surrounding countryside was very, very old-time New England Yankee in every way, including palate.  However, the "summer people" who owned cottages around the shoreline were a bit more cosmopolitan, mostly from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  It was here that Clearwater Inn broke new culinary ground with what we called, "continental cuisine."  About ten years after my parents bought the Inn, a german restaurant called Schweitzer's opened not too far away, and they did a rousing business.  People were ready to make a change from their standard American meat and potatoes fare.

My grandmother, Josephine Catalano Cieri, cooked the dinner meal for our guests for the first ten years or so, until I was 8 years old, when she retired to her cottage across the lake.  She was an amazing woman in every possible way, including a talented, inventive and fearless cook.  My mother and I owe everything good about our culinary skills to her.  I don't remember the first time I tasted Grammie's chicken marsala, but I certainly remember our guests raving about it. We served dinner family style, that is, the food was on platters and each diner helped himself to however much they wanted.  Whenever chicken marsala was on the menu, the platters came back clean as a whistle, with a request for more!
I had about a cup of marsala left in the bottle, some chicken breasts and some mushrooms, so this was a no brainer, and transported me back to my childhood in the yellow kitchen at Clearwater Inn.  Such happy memories!  I'm trying to lose a few lbs, so I adapted the recipe a bit, and those changes are noted below.

Here you go!

1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/3 C flour*
3 Tbs butter, divided*
2 Tbs olive oil
2 shallots, minced or 1/4 small onion, minced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced finely
1 1/2 tsp marjoram, dried
1 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs minced fresh parsley, or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1 tsp dried basil
1 C Marsala wine
1/2 C full flavored chicken broth

Slice the chicken breasts in half length-wise, then pound them flat.  Or, you can skip this step, as I did, and simply cook them longer.  Lightly salt and pepper each breast, then dredge in the flour. *I didn't dredge the chicken this time and sauteed the "naked" chicken.  Reserve the leftover flour to thicken the sauce later.  Heat half the butter in a large skillet and brown the chicken well on both sides, then set aside and keep warm.  *I didn't use any butter and had no loss of flavor.  Instead, I used about 1 Tbs of olive oil in the pan to saute the chicken.   

In the same pan, add the shallots/onion, garlic, marjoram, parsley, basil and salt, adding the olive oil to keep it from sticking, and being sure to scrape up all the yummy bits from the chicken.  *I used about another Tbs of olive oil, making a total of 2 Tbs for the entire recipe. When the garlic is fragrant and onions are translucent, the mushrooms should be releasing their juice.  Add in the wine, continuing to scrape up the little bits, and then the broth.   Simmer for five minutes or so, till the sauce is reduced a little, then stir in the remaining flour and 1 Tbs of butter and simmer, stirring, for another two or three minutes, until the sauce is thickened to your liking.  *I did not add butter into the sauce, with no loss of flavor.  Because I didn't pound my breasts, I nestled them into the sauce immediately after adding the liquids, and simmered them in the sauce for the five minutes, turning the over halfway through.  I removed them from the sauce, kept them warm, then added in about 2 Tbs of flour to thicken the sauce.

Taste for salt and pepper and serve.

Makes six servings.   5 WW points plus with my changes.

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