There are lots of ways to ruin (or just complicate) chicken piccata: garlic, white wine, or peperoncino (red pepper flakes) to name a few.
The word piccata in Italian means an irritation or offense, and such ingredients can do just that to this subtle dish. Nowadays in Italy, the word piccata has also come to reference the dish, there usually made with veal. To me the most appealing of the word’s purported origins is as an Italianization of the French piqué, meaning something like “stung” in English, a possible reference to the unexpected (and delightful) bite of the lemon when the dish is made properly.
It is part of the magic of a blog that when readers write in, you can add to the post and blithely fail to credit the commenter (sorry Stephen M.). So it goes in this paragraph, where I now (and newly) mention the occasionally served menu-pun “chicken peccata mundi,” a dish so good it purports to take away the sins of the world. It apparently does at Angelina’s Restaurant in West Seattle. Yes Angel-ina’s. Hopefully there is never a lamb version.
As for the secular chicken piccata, here’s how to do it right. I developed this recipe from my mother’s version, which involves few measurements but is, of course, excellent.
Recipe: Chicken Piccata with Bucatini
Summary: The best version of an Italian-American classic.
- 1 pound organic, boneless, skinless chicken thighs, pounded to 1/2 inch flat
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup chicken stock
- 1/4 cup capers (preferably nonpareil), rinsed
- 10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- Juice of one lemon
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon corn starch
- 1/2 pound imported Italian bucatini (pasta)
- Sea salt
- Black pepper, freshly ground
- Semolina flour (sufficient to dredge chicken)
- Cook the bucatini in plenty of salted water, about 10 minutes (or as directed on the package). Set aside.
- Salt and pepper the flattened chicken thighs to taste, and dredge in semolina flour.
- Heat the olive oil and butter a large, deep skillet (say, 14 inches x 3 inches) over medium high heat until the butter has melted.
- Place the chicken thighs in the pan, and cook 3 minutes or until one side is brown. Lower the heat to medium high.
- Turn the chicken in the pan, and brown the other side (about 3 minutes).
- Remove the chicken, and set aside.
- Pour half the liquid (chicken stock and lemon juice) into the pan. Deglaze (scrape all the browned bits into the liquid) for one minute.
- Add the rest of the liquid, the cherry tomatoes, and the capers. Reduce the liquid for about 5 minutes, until somewhat thick. Add a bit of the corn starch for thickness if desired.
- Turn the heat up to high. Add the pasta to the pan, and stir or toss with tongs for 3 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, add the parsley and give a quick stir. Serve with a good, dry white wine.
Preparation time: 15 minutesCooking time: 15 minutes
Number of servings (yield): 3