It sounds Italian, doesn’t it? That’s because the ancestor of the dish is Italian. In Italy, however, piccata is cooked with thin slices of veal or fish. There is no chicken piccata in Italy but it is popular in the United States. And that makes it Italian-American.
My chicken piccata useschicken thigh fillets — skin on because the layer of fatty skin adds flavor and moisture to the meat, and adds crispness to the crusty surface. The chicken thigh fillets are placed between sheets of gling film and pounded to a uniform thickness.
Meat never browns well if wet. So, we need o get rid of excess surface moisture. This is done by placing the pounded chicken fillets on a stack of paper towels, placing another stack of paper towels on top and pressing down.
Although chicken piccata is served with a rich sauce, we can’t rely on the sauce alone to flavor the chicken meat all the way. So, we season. Lemon pepper seasoning works best for me because it has lemon zest that adds more citrusy aroma to the dish. Rub the seasoning well into the chicken fillets before dredging them in flour and shaking off the excess.
Heat up olive oil in a pan and fry the chicken fillets, skin side down, for about three minutes or until nicely browned. Flip and fry the opposite sides for another two minutes. Note two things about this stage of cooking.
First, use olive oil and not extra virgin olive oil which is too bitter. You don’t need a lot. A quarter of an inch deep of olive oil should be enough. But how much that is in terms of cups or tablespoons depends on the size of the frying pan. And the size of the frying pan brings us to the second thing worth noting.
If your frying pan cannot accommodate all your fillets in a single layer without touching one another, fry the chicken in batches. Do not overcrowd the pan so that the chicken can brown evenly.
Set the browned chicken fillets aside (letting them rest on a rack is a good idea). Into the remaining oil in the pan, add crushed garlic and salt, and cook gently for about a minute. Pour in white wine and lemon juice. Allow to simmer for a few minutes to reduce and to allow the raw smell and taste of alcohol to dissipate. Taste and add more salt, as needed.
Before we proceed to the next step, let’s talk about the wine. What wine is ideal for chicken piccata? White wine. Sweet or dry? Here’s the thing. The choice depends on how tangy you want your chicken piccata. Sweet white wine will mellow down the sharp acidity of the lemon juice. Dry white wine hardly will but it does give the sauce a deeper flavor.
I prefer sweet wine. The Japanese rice wine called mirin is the best choice for me. It turns syrupy during cooking, it balances the acidity of the lemon juice well and it gives the sauce a lovely glossy appearance.
So, once the sauce has reduced, lay the browned chicken fillets in it in a single layer and add your capers. Simmer gently, uncovered, for three to four minutes to give the chicken a chance to soak up the flavors in the sauce. Scoop out the chicken, arrange in a serving plate or bowl, and finish the sauce.
Off the heat, drop in two tablespoons of butter into the sauce and swirl until the butter is melted. Stir to blend. Taste the sauce, stir in more salt if needed. When the balance meets with your approval, ladle the sauce (with the capers and garlic) over the chicken, sprinkle in torn mint leaves and serve your chicken piccata.
Prep the chicken
- Pound the chicken fillets to a uniform thickness of less than half an inch.
- Press the pounded chicken between stacks of paper towels to remove surface moisture.
- Rub the lemon pepper seasoning on the chicken fillets.
- Dredge each fillet in flour and shake off the excess.
Brown the chicken
- Pour enough olive oil into a frying pan to reach a depth of a quarter inch and heat.
- Lay down the floured chicken fillets, skin side down, and cook for about three minutes before flipping. Cook the opposite sides for another two minutes.
- Move the browned chicken to a rack.
Make the sauce
- Stir the garlic into the remaining oil in the pan, sprinkle in a few pinches of salt and cook just until aromatic.
- Pour in the wine and lemon juice.
- Cook, uncovered, for a few minutes then taste and add more salt, if needed.
Simmer the chicken in the sauce
- Drop the chicken into the sauce in a single layer and simmer for three to four minutes.
- Scoop out the chicken and arrange in a serving bowl or plate.
Finish the sauce
- Turn off the heat and add the butter to the sauce in the pan. Swirl until melted.
- Stir the sauce to blend in the butter.
- Taste, add more salt, if needed.
Serve your chicken piccata
- Ladle the sauce with the capers and garlic over the chicken.
- Garnish with torn mint leaves and serve with pasta, rice or bread.