This is one of our go-to comfort foods. The meat is rich and buttery, and is complemented by the sweetness of the shallots and the tanginess of the lemon-caper butter sauce. You’d normally serve it with buttered noodles (yes, this amounts to a lot of butter — deal with it). It’s the kind of home-cooking meets fine-dining Eliseo specialises in.
Piccata isn’t one of the easiest dishes to make — Eliseo of course has the skills and the patience to pull it off — but it isn’t hard if you pay attention to detail, and practice a bit. And the basic techniques are worth learning. The process of pounding meat flat, dredging and breading it, and frying it are common to a variety of other dishes, like schnitzel or chicken marsala.
– 4 boneless chicken breasts (app. 2.5 lbs, 1kg)
– 1/2 c (125 ml) flour
– 1/4 c (30ml) grated parmesan cheese
– 4 eggs
– 4 tbsp (60 ml) capers (or less). Coarsely chop half of them.
– 4 or more shallots (we used 10)
– 2 cloves of garlic (we used 6)
– 1/2 c (125ml) dry white wine (we used dry vermouth)
– 1.5 lemons (juice and zest)
– a handful of finely chopped parsley
– 1/4 cup butter (or more)
– salt and pepper to taste
– Oil for frying (vegetable, not olive). Or butter.
Beating the chicken
Clean the breasts of fat and other detritus. Then pound them. The easiest way to do this is to take a breast at a time. Put it in a large ziploc (or it’ll splatter everywhere), and pound it with a meat tenderiser (like a weird metal mallet — if you don’t have one, you can smash it with a rolling pin). If the breasts are too thick, you’ll need to tenderise it first (use the spiky side of the mallet), or you’ll tear the meat. Then, use the flat side to make them thin (1/2 in, 1cm). The breasts should be an even thickness all over, so they cook evenly. You can do them a little thicker, but they will take longer to cook.
Once you’ve done all the breasts, pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Season it with salt (about 2 tsp) and pepper (1 tsp), plus the lemon zest. You can leave it to marinate for 2 hours, or overnight. But you can get right to cooking if you want to.
Battering the chicken
Prepare the eggs. Beat them in a bowl, using a fork or whisk, together with the parmesan and 1tbsp of parsley, plus a pinch of salt. Put the flour into a large bowl.
Heat up the oil (or butter) in the pan (Teflon preferably), over low heat. Make sure it’s hot before you go on to the next step (you’ll smell the oil); it shouldn’t be at the smoking hot stage. At this time turn on the oven to 350F (150C).
Do one breast at a time. Dip itin the flour to completely coat (no pinkish naked bits peeking out). Shake the poor battered breast to remove the excess. Fry it for 3 minutes on one side (less is if it’s thinner), just until the egg is cooked but not brown. Flip it, and cook for another minute. Put it on a baking tray (on parchament paper, or a rack). Then do the other breasts, adding a little oil if necessary to keep the pan coated.
When all the breasts are done, pop them in the oven. Leave them there for 15-20 minutes (the oil will be bubbling on top of the meat).
Making the sauce
Thinly slice the shallots and chop the garlic finely. Fry them in a tbsp of butter until translucent. Add the white wine or vermouth, and the capers, plus 1tbsp caper juice. Reduce to half, or a little more. Add the lemon juice, bring to a boil.
Chop the remaining butter into 1tbsp chunks and toss half of it with flour just to coat. Add the floured to the simmering sauce (this makes a light roux). When the butter has melted, remove from heat. In a minute or two, add the rest of the butter and the parsley.
Salt to taste (it should already be pretty salty).
After the chicken is done, take out of the over and let it rest for at least five minutes. Slice it, and serve with the sauce on top, alongside rice or buttered pasta (fettuccini). You can toss the pasta with a little bit extra sauce, if there’s enough.
Serves 4-5 people. Total cooking time, not including marinating — 45 minutes to an hour.
If you do the breasts really thin, you can probably finish them in the pan, and skip the oven altogether. Just make sure to thin the eggs out a little bit, or it will resemble an omelet.
You can do most of the work a day in advance. Do everything up to the point of putting the meat in the oven, and then put it in the fridge overnight. Then, you can assemble everything before guests arrive, which will take about about 20 minutes.
The chef for this is usually Eliseo. Great with a bottle of wine, or a beer. You can do this recipe with veal, this is more traditional, just omit the egg, and don’t bake it.