Chicken Saltimbocca

I’m not a veal guy.

I know that as a bona fide carnivore I can be considered a hypocrite for this, but now that I know the reasons behind everything I used to love about veal as a blissfully-ignorant kid–taste, texture, etc.–I just don’t enjoy it.

So during weekly meal planning, when I thought about an ingredient counterpart for Monday’s Filet Mignon with Red Wine-Mushroom Pan Gravy, I opted to bypass the obvious choice–Chicken Marsala–and try my hand at one of my favorite chicken dishes. It’s the chicken-subbed version of a traditional Mediterranean veal dish called Saltimbocca.

Saltimbocca is a delicious pile of wonderful stuff: chicken breast, prosciutto, spinach, and often in the US (and definitely in my house) cheese. Traditionally, Saltimbocca is built raw and the ingredients are marinated together.

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Traditional Saltimbocca, uncooked. Rolled, lower left, is variation Saltimbocca alla Romana. Credit Fanny Schertzer

The following recipe is my pilot batch of Chicken Saltimbocca. I worked with techniques I’d learned from other recipes, but guessed and eyeballed most quantities and steps. We loved it this way, but I’d love to hear improvements.

What’s great about this recipe is how easily it can be scaled up. You could make this for a roomful of people and have a well-executed dish that looks really fancy, but is actually pretty easy. If you’re going to make it for two, it’s almost as easy to make it for a dozen.

For this recipe, I marinated only the chicken breasts for two hours in olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lemon with fresh rosemary and thyme leaves picked from my fledgling backyard herb pots. I also added a couple pinches of salt. I opted to add the prosciutto and spinach later. Make your life easier down the line–if you can, marinate the chicken in an oven-safe vessel.

Note| Please, just whack a lemon in half and juice it. It’s fresher, tastier and cheaper (and not that much harder), than using packaged lemon juice. Get yourself a juicer like the one below. Wrap the other half of the lemon up and fridge it. Maybe you can make my Chicken Milanese (link soon) recipe and use the other half in your dressing, like I plan to do tomorrow night.

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Chicken in the oven-safe dish, almost-but-not-quite submerged in extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and about one large sprig each fresh-picked rosemary and thyme. Two tools that make my life easy: Chef’n Herb Stripper and Sur La Table Lemon Juicer. Click links to order from Amazon.

I chopped up three shallots and two small(ish) yellow onions, and I sliced up some baby bella mushrooms. This is going to be the base for the pan sauce, and is similar to the gravy in the aforementioned filet recipe (link soon). The sauce is another part of the dish that is a riff on tradition. I hope the traditionalists can forgive me for this, and for what I’m about to do to the spinach.

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Need a pro, high-end knife without breaking the bank? This 7″ chef’s knife by Zwilling J.A. Henckels is the move. I never thought whacking up onions could be so much fun.
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Witchcraft? Sorcery? Who knows how it works, but if I didn’t have a Kuhn Rikon Garlic Roller I might still be peeling garlic right now. No need to smash all your garlic (which you really shouldn’t do unless you’re pressing it) with this simple silicone sleeve. Put the garlic inside, roll it back and forth a few times and dump it out…. Garlic: peeled. Mind: blown.

Forgoing the traditional plain, uncooked preparation, I sautéed a generous helping of spinach with fresh chopped garlic. I added about a tablespoon of regular olive oil and got the garlic golden-brown before adding the spinach, which I sautéed just long enough to reduce and wilt. Burner went off while the spinach was still a healthy, bright green. I scooped this from the pan and set it aside. No garlic left behind. We love garlic here.

Chicken time. I put two tbsp. butter in a skillet and heated it up. I like to heat butter slowly, so I actually got this going on very low heat while I was prepping the spinach. I stepped the heat up slowly over the next several minutes. It depends on your pan, but when the butter melts, bubbles, and then the bubbling slows, you’re about ready to zap you some chicken breasts. Salt them to taste.

I laid the breasts on the pan just long enough to brown side one, and then turned them. You do not want to cook them through here. You want them raw on the inside. This should only take several seconds, but use your judgement.

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After I removed all the breasts, I poured a little more than half of the marinade liquid into the hot pan which would soon host the mushroom, onion and shallot. On each breast, I laid a double-layer of prosciutto, a heap of sautéed spinach, and one split slice of pre-sliced mozzarella cheese, like so.

Back into the marinating vessel–for me, a Pyrex glass dish–and then in the oven on 450 for 10-15 minutes (depending on chicken thickness).

Immediately I threw the rest of the chopped garlic into the chicken pan, and in went the chopped onion, chopped shallot, and sliced mushrooms. I sautéed these until they cooked down. Salt to taste.

Note| I learned this in a cooking class: mushrooms eat up the oil in the pan and will make things look very dry. Resist the temptation to add more oil, or you will be swimming in it–as they cook, the mushrooms will release that oil again and all will be well.

Next comes 1/2 cup of ideally a light-to-medium-bodied dry red wine with some fruitiness–we were short on ideal matches on our modest wine rack (which heavily favors Cab Sauvs and Barolos), so this time, the best option for us was a cheap Spanish Garnacha, which was not an ideal pair for the dish, but worked alright for cooking (I usually like to cook with a small portion of what we’re drinking). As a cheap, young Garnacha, it had some fruit and some spice, which contributed nice flavor. It yielded a dryer-tasting sauce than most would prefer. Keep this in mind: might be good to grab yourself a bottle of cooking Marsala rather than play wine-rack-roulette. This is especially true if you’re cooking this for a large group.

I reduced the wine, deglazed the pan by scraping it, and when the wine was reduced to a deep, dark brown color, added about 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream. This simmered on low until the rest of the dinner was ready.

We cooked some fresh capellini to accompany it, but you could sub a potato recipe. Personally, I like a macaroni with this kind of sauce.

It’s time for the chicken to come out of the oven and go on the plate. The following results were delicious.

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Ingredients

  • 4-6 chicken breasts (depending on thickness/preference)
  • prosciutto, 2 layers per chicken breast (for my quantity was 1/4lb sliced not too thin)
  • fresh uncooked spinach, 1-1.5 oz per chicken breast
  • sliced mozzarella cheese, 1 slice per chicken breast
  • 1-2 yellow onions (to taste), chopped
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 8oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 4-8 cloves of garlic (to taste), chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves

Instructions

  • Lay chicken in oven-safe dish, pour extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice over top, and sprinkle in the rosemary and thyme leaves. Cover, refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  • Prep pan with 1 tbsp. olive oil and half of the chopped garlic. Cook to golden-brown, then add spinach. Sautée the spinach until cooked down, turn off before the spinach darkens. Remove the sautéed spinach and set it aside.
  • Remove chicken from fridge 30 minutes prior to this step. Prepare pan with two tbsp. butter. Get pan hot; once melted butter stops bubbling, lay in chicken breasts. Brown on each side very quickly and remove. Chicken should still be raw in the center.
  • Carefully empty about half the marinade oil into the skillet you used for the chicken. Keep it on the flame. Add the rest of the chopped garlic to this pan.
  • Place chicken back in the oven-safe marinade dish and top each breast with two layers of prosciutto, portion of sautéed spinach to taste, and one slice of mozzarella ripped to fit the chicken breast. Place this dish in the oven on 450 for 10-15 minutes (depending on chicken thickness).
  • Add the chopped onion, chopped shallot, and sliced mushroom to the pan. Sautée until the onions start to get clear and the mushrooms release the oil they’ve absorbed. Also start to prepare a starch of your choice.
  • Add 1/2 cup of a fruity, light-to-medium-bodied dry red wine. Reduce and simmer, deglaze pan by scraping it.
  • When wine is reduced, add 1/2 cup whipping cream and lower the flame.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven, plate, and add sauce to taste.

Tools that will Make Your Life Easy

 

As always, please leave your experiences with cooking this along with any recommendations or improvements in the comments. We’d love to hear your feedback.

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