A much-loved chicken recipe popularized by Italian-Americans, chicken marsala is tender chicken breasts bathing in a rich and glossy marsala wine sauce with golden mushrooms. A restaurant quality dish, worthy of white tablecloths, that can be put together in 25 minutes and enjoyed by the whole family.
If you don’t cook with wine but love a chicken and mushroom flavour combination, my chicken with garlic mushroom sauce will deliver! Just check the recipe notes to make the wine substitution.
Marsala wine is the standout ingredient in this recipe, if you don’t cook with alcohol, this one is probably not for you! Although wine is obviously alcoholic in its store-bought form, the alcohol evaporates during cooking so there is no bitter boozy taste.
Only the wine’s flavourings remain, and it is safe for children. This recipe has always gone down well with mine!
What is Chicken Marsala?
The dish consists of tender chicken breasts swimming in a slightly sweet and deliciously savoury Marsala sauce with a distinct earthy flavour of chestnut mushrooms.
The dish is a combination of French techniques and Italian ingredients, notably the Marsala wine, which comes from a Sicilian city of the same name. French residents of Sicily wanted a dish they recognised, and chicken marsala was created to meet this need.
That was a couple of centuries ago, though, and the dish is now mostly associated with Italian-American cooking. Brought over and popularised by the many immigrants from Sicily, it is now a mainstay found in countless restaurants.
Although a bit retro, it’s a dish worth rediscovering. We all love a tender piece of chicken, which is only improved by the hearty, rich Marsala sauce. It packs a flavourful punch that’s hard not to love.
Chicken in marsala wine
Just to be clear, we are talking Marsala wine, not masala spice! That’s a whole other blog! Marsala wine is a fortified wine from Sicily, its roasted nuttiness and toffee notes are what give this Italian chicken recipe its unique, unforgettable flavour profile.
Adhering to the traditional method, the best chicken marsala recipe will tenderise chicken breasts with a meat mallet for melt-in-the-mouth softness. It will then seal them by lightly frying inside a flour coating for ultimate succulence.
The sauce is made with sweet shallots, earthy mushrooms and of course, Marsala wine. The result is an oaky, burnt caramel-flavoured gravy in which to further simmer the chicken.
Flavour making tips
Marsala wine is both sweet and acidic, so the addition of mushrooms roots the dish in earthiness. I’ve used chestnut mushrooms in this recipe as they were available to me at the time.
However, be daring! Get wild with your mushrooms and choose something you wouldn’t usually, it will bolster the flavour impact.
You can stick with chestnut, like me, or packs of mixed mushrooms can be bought from big supermarkets. Or select one or two interesting looking ones; fruity chanterelles and woodsy porcini are my absolute favourites and contrast beautifully.
I’ve used delicate shallots in place of onions. I find they bring a welcome hint of garlic, you’ll notice that there isn’t any in this recipe as it clashes with the wine.
Marsala wine might be tricky to track down, but you can substitute with any other sweet and syrupy, fortified wine. You could use Madeira wine or an amber-coloured sherry, which will be neither too dry not too sweet.
Recipe tips and notes
- I cut the chicken breasts in half lengthways and then pound them with a meat mallet. The thinner cutlets cook quicker and more evenly resulting in a super tender bite.
- Traditionally, the chicken breasts are dredged in flour. The coating does 3 things; turns the chicken a pleasant golden colour when fried; seals in the meat’s juiciness; creates a smooth consistency to the sauce.
- That being said, feel free to skip that step if you’re pushed for time.
- For caramel-coloured, slightly crisp mushrooms, don’t overcrowd the pan. Too many mushrooms cooking at once will steam them and leave them soggy and flavourless.
- Experiment with mushrooms! Be adventurous and try a new variety or two, mixing it up will greatly enhance the complexity of this dish.
- If you can’t source Marsala, don’t panic! You can easily substitute with Madeira (another fortified wine), or even a sweetish sherry.
- The original chicken marsala recipe doesn’t include cream and I haven’t in this one, but you totally can! 120ml/ ½ cup will double the indulgence of this luscious dish.
Any of your favourite carbs will accompany chicken marsala; pasta, rice or mashed potatoes, herb and garlic mashed potatoes, especially. I like this dish with crunchy green vegetables too; lemon butter green beans or roasted tenderstem broccoli with lemon garlic vinaigrette.
Or if you’re feeling fancy, honour your dinner guests with a decadent Italian multi-course meal:
Antipasto – bruschetta recipe trio
Primo – pasta e fagioli soup
Secondo – chicken marsala
Dolce – salted caramel affogato
Storage and leftovers
For the most succulent chicken and perfectly silken sauce, eat on the day. Any leftovers can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days. Reheat on the hob with a little water to loosen the sauce.
The simplest way to reheat the any leftovers is in a microwave, but I prefer using the stovetop. Add it to a pan over medium-low heat, adding a splash of water or stock to keep the sauce loose.
Cover with a lid or foil so it doesn’t dry out and let it heat for approximately 15 minutes or until it is hot enough to enjoy.
More recipes with marsala wine
- Creamy Mushroom Marsala Sauce
- Filet Mignon with Mushroom Marsala Sauce
- Meatballs with Marsala Cream Sauce
- Turkey Marsala Pot Pie
- Strawberry Marsala Cobbler
Best Chicken Marsala
- 4 chicken breasts
- salt and pepper
- ½ cup/ 60 g flour
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 small shallots chopped
- 1 cup/100g chestnut mushrooms sliced
- 1 tbsp flour
- ½ cup/125 ml marsala wine
- 1 cup/250 ml chicken stock
- flat leaf parsley
- Cover the chicken breasts with a cling wrap and pound them with a meat mallet until they are no thicker than ½ inch. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides and dredge in flour.
- Fry in olive oil until golden over medium-high heat for approximately 5 minutes. Do not over cook as the chicken breasts will be quite thin and will cook fast. Remove to a separate plate and set aside.
- To the same pan add chopped shallots and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes, then add sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper and saute for 5 minutes, then add 1 tbsp of flour, stir and cook for a minute longer, then add marsala wine and turn the heat up to medium, add chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and return the chicken to the pan, let it heat through in the sauce, simmer for a few minutes to allow the sauce to thicken to a desired consistency.
- Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and a side dish of your choice.