My Citizens, we are coming up on week 2 of the official San Francisco lockdown due to Covid-19 and the eerie silence of the city echoes the same quietude now encompassing every major city in the world. It is haunting…not in a bad way, but as if the world is holding its collective breath. Which it is, metaphorically (and somewhat literally as well) – what better time to raid your pantry and enjoy the sharp taste pleasures of chicken piccata?
This is part of our continuing series of simple recipes you can make from pantry staples while on lockdown. Of course, my recipe goes beyond the mundane, even now – but more on that soon.
Piccata describes meat, usually veal or chicken, that is sliced, dredged in flour, then sautéed in a sauce containing lemon juice, butter, and capers.
Piccata is an Italian word, the feminine form of the word piccato, meaning “larded”. It is a translation of the French piqué (sharp, as in “piquant”), participle of piquer. When used in reference to a way of preparing food, particularly meat or fish, it means “sliced, sautéed, and served in a sauce containing lemon, butter and spices”.
Traditionally, the Italians use veal (veal piccata); however, the best known dish of this sort in the US uses chicken (chicken piccata). The recipe has a meatless adaptation using seitan (seitan piccata). Piccata is also prepared using veal (piccata di vitello al limone) or frittura piccata, particularly in the Milanese region it uses swordfish (pesce spada con capperi e limone).
In the chicken version, a breast is butterflied or sliced along its width. It is flattened to an even thickness with a tenderizer between two pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap. It is seasoned and dredged in flour before being browned in butter or olive oil. The sauce is made using the pan drippings. Lemon juice and white wine or chicken stock are added and reduced. Shallots or garlic can be added with capers, chopped parsley and slices of lemon. After reduction, butter is stirred in to finish the sauce.
In the United States, it is usually served with a vegetable or a starch, such as pasta, polenta, or rice. In Italy, veal piccata is a secondo and would be served after the pasta (or other starch) course.
Now, I personally love a bit of anchovy in my version (I only endorse Ortiz brand), and I add dried oregano to the breading for more flavor. I prefer dry vermouth to white wine due to its additional herbaceous flavor. I add a touch of Demiglace to the sauce for additional richness – use your own if you have it or store-bought from here.
My secret trick for making this sauce with the proper sharpness and even more flavor – don’t JUST use lemon juice, also use the vinegar from the caper jar as well! There are a range of proper cooking techniques in play in this seemingly simple dish – while easy-to-prepare, it is very important to follow the steps outlined in the recipes precisely so as to achieve true piccata perfection! Fear not, take My hand and I shall not allow you to falter – for I am TFD and I exist to protect all of TFD Nation from culinary trepidation!
My recipe will hopefully make being stuck at home a little more bearable for you and yours, Citizens. Consider pairing this dish with some delicious risotto, if you have the correct rice and seasonings in your pantry – and I am confident most of you do!
Battle on – the Generalissimo
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