Living in a small town sometimes will make you a creative cook. You have to substitute ingredients depending on their availability or distance to the closest store. It can be as simple as using cheddar instead of Monterey jack or maybe Yukon potatoes instead of Idaho potatoes. In cases like that, the flavor profile in your recipe won’t be altered radically.
There are times when I put my little foot down and say I just can’t do it. I don’t want to compromise the whole essence of the recipe by changing an ingredient. Some recipes are designed to have a specific flavor profile so you must be firm.
Chicken Marsala is one of those recipes. A friend recently asked me to suggest a good wine substitution for Marsala. I was in shock. Why in heaven’s name would you ever want to substitute the main flavor component in Chicken Marsala? It is madness! (I started to hear Seal singing “Crazy” in my head at this point so I knew I needed a time-out.)
I calmed down and asked her if she made orange juice in the morning would you squeeze a grapefruit? Using her logic, they are in the same family so why not just use another piece of citrus? Because you want orange juice for goodness sake!!!
I further explained that Marsala isn’t your run of the mill wine. It is a fortified wine meaning there is hard liquor (Brandy) added to achieve its unique flavor. So a substitution with a non-fortified wine would just make it a completely different dish. (I admit I was having a minor hissy fit at this time.)
After hearing my dissertation about Marsala, I had proven to her that this is one area she would have to curb her creative substitutions. I think I also guaranteed that it would be awhile before she asked me for advice on a recipe. (Sorry.)
½ cup flour
¼ tsp EACH paprika and garlic powder
Dash of onion powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, dried thyme, salt and black pepper. * More on this seasoning later
1 lb. chicken breasts (either cutlets or chopped up into pieces)
2 Tbsp butter, divided
1 lb baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 cup Marsala (DON’T SUBSTITUE)
1-cup chicken broth
¼ cup chopped green onion
- Combine flour and spices in a plastic container. *Note on the spices: I don’t really measure these. I just add a little to the flour to spice it up. Trust your judgment.
- Add chicken, put top on container, and shake it up. (Sort of old school Shake ‘n Bake style)
- Let it sit in the fridge for about an hour or more.
- Heat olive oil over med/high heat and add 1 Tbsp of butter.
- Cook chicken until golden brown and remove from pan and keep warm.
- Add Mushrooms, green onion and ½ TBsp of butter. Cook until the juices from the mushrooms have been rendered.
- Add Marsala and scrape the brown bits from the pan.
- Reduce Marsala by half.
- Add chicken broth and cook about 4 more minutes so it is lightly simmering.
- Reduce heat to medium/low and add chicken
- Add remaining ½ TBsp of butter and cook until sauce thickens.
- Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve over angel hair spaghetti.
A couple more thoughts on Marsala. There are varying degrees of sweetness in Marsala wines. There is dry with very little residual sugar, semi-sweet with some residual sugar and sweet with high amounts of residual sugars. Use the variety that satisfies your sweet-tooth the most. Also make sure you purchase REAL Marsala and not cooking Marsala, which may cheapen the depth of flavors in the dish.
Yes, you CAN take this same recipe and swap in a different wine but puh-lease don’t call it Marsala. It would make me angry. And in the infamous words of the Incredible Hulk “you wouldn’t like me if I got angry.”