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Chicken piccata is a modern take on the classic Italian dish veal piccata, most especially enjoyed in the Milanese region of Italy. Of course, chicken piccata is not exclusive to Italy. You can find excellent versions of either chicken or veal piccata in most fine Italian restaurants throughout the world. This is a delicious savory dish, quick to prepare, with accents of lemon, usually white wine, and occasionally capers.
Piccata is a form of the Italian verb picchiare, which means to beat, flog, or pound. Actually, traditionally, the ease of cooking in making chicken piccata is that the chicken breasts (or turkey or veal) are pounded to extreme thinness before being dredged in flour and quickly sautéed in a pan. This minimizes cooking time significantly. When you don’t want to pound out chicken breasts, you can also make chicken piccata with regular sized breasts. Simply adjust your cooking time to reflect the need to cook a thicker piece of chicken.
Once the chicken is sautéed in olive oil, you make a quick sauce that includes lemon juice, a little white wine, sometimes shallots and Italian parsley. Recipes for chicken piccata differ on whether or not to add capers. Some people really enjoy these piquant pea sized bites and others don’t like them. The choice is really up to the cook. Others slice up a few mushrooms in the sauce or add some olives. Some chefs use a bit of chopped pancetta when making the gravy. The sauce is reduced, and the chicken is added in the last minute or two back to the sauce to soak up its flavor.
There are a number of different ways to present chicken piccata. Probably the most traditional is to serve the piccata with a healthy dollop of sauce on polenta. Small types of pasta like ditalini or orzo are excellent choices as a bed for chicken piccata. You can also serve chicken piccata on rice or couscous. A garnish of a little chopped parsley is really all that is needed to make this a spectacular dish, which can serve any number of people depending on the size of your pan and the number of chicken breasts you use.
If you are planning to employ the picchiare method of flattening the chicken breasts, you do need to be a bit cautious in your pounding so as not to spray raw chicken all over your kitchen. It can help to place the chicken in a plastic bag so any spray is minimized, and you should aim for about a quarter of an inch (.64 cm) thickness or less. It’s fine for the chicken to be almost transparent or have a rip or two during the pounding process.
Alternately, to make your work a lot easier, you can often ask local butchers to tenderize your chicken like steak in order to get the thin strips that will make chicken piccata so delightful. You can also save time, by butterflying a half breast and then giving it a good pounding. In whatever form, this Milanese classic is sure to make a worthy meal.
To make it easier on yourself, place the chicken breast in the freezer for 30 minutes or so, it will make slicing it into thin cutlets so much faster and neater.
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