A Quick, Delicious Weeknight Dinner
Piccata is a classic Italian dish made from veal scaloppini, an Italian term that means a thin “scallop” of meat. The veal is seasoned and dredged in flour, then quickly sautéed. Piccata is an Italian word that outside of Italy is also spelled picatta or pichotta. The culinary use of the term pichotta means “to be pounded flat.”
Piccata dishes are served with a sauce made from pan drippings, lemon juice, butter, capers, and chopped parsley. Often veal is expensive and hard to find, so I like to substitute chicken, a dish found on the menus of many Italian restaurants. I prefer adding some basil to my sauce and then garnishing it with parsley.
The secret to making good piccata is pounding the meat to a thickness of ¼ inch. This is a must! If you don’t have a meat tenderizer, purchase one if you want to make piccata. From start to finish, this dish can be prepared in about 30 minutes, making it perfect for busy days.
Chicken Piccata in a Lemon Basil Sauce Serves 4
For the pasta:
1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente and drained
Cook penne pasta al dente according to package directions.
For the chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts Salt to taste Large grind black pepper to taste All-purpose flour for dredging 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 5 tablespoons butter, divided 3 teaspoons minced garlic 2 shallots, finely chopped 2 teaspoons lemon rind 3 tablespoons lemon juice 1 cup white wine ¼ cup capers, rinsed 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped 1 cup large grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish Fresh parsley, chopped 1 lemon, sliced Place chicken breasts between 2 pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and then on a cutting board and lightly pound with a meat tenderizer so they are no thicker than ¼ inch. This ensures they will cook through. While pasta is cooking, season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour and shake lightly to remove any excess.
In a large heavy sauté pan, heat olive oil and 3 tablespoons butter over a medium-high heat. When olive oil and butter sizzle, place chicken breasts in the hot sauté pan and sear on one side for 3 minutes. Turn and sear the second side for another 3 minutes. Remove chicken breasts from the pan and set aside to make sauce.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add garlic and shallots to the sauté pan and cook until slightly browned. Add lemon rind, lemon juice, wine, capers, and basil and scrap the bottom of the pan to release any pan drippings. Reduce the heat to low. Return chicken breasts to the sauté pan and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until chicken breasts are cooked through. Remove chicken breasts from the sauce. Add additional 2 tablespoons butter and whisk to combine.
Transfer cooked pasta to a large serving bowl. Pour half the sauce over penne and toss gently to coat evenly. Add Parmesan cheese and toss again. Divide pasta among 4 dinner plates. Place cooked chicken breasts on top of penne. Drizzle remaining sauce over chicken breasts. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese and garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.
Cooking tip: Capers should be rinsed to remove excess salt.
Shopping for chicken: The skin of fresh chicken should have a yellow tint, and its meat should be a pink, fleshy hue. As chicken ages, its meat fades to a dull gray color. Avoid chicken that has a hint of gray. Fresh chicken should be plump. When you press its meat, it should be resilient but return to its normal shape. Fresh chicken has a clean smell. If it smells, it has passed its prime. Avoid chicken that has bruises or tears in its flesh. This can affect its quality. Avoid chicken that is blotchy and dried around the edges.
Chicken breasts should be pale pink in color and possess little fat. Dark meat like thighs will be a darker pink and have more fat. If you are purchasing skin-on pieces that you want to sear, select pieces with ample skin that covers as much of the chicken as possible.
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.
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