Chicken Francese

FrankItalian-American, secondi piatti54 Comments

Chicken Francese

October is Italian-American Heritage month, and long time readers will know that each year, around this time, we feature an Italian-American dish. This year, we’re serving up Chicken Francese, a perennial favorite you’ll find on the menu of just about every Italian-American restaurant in the country.

Despite its fame, the origins of Chicken Francese are rather obscure (see Notes below) but what is clear is its appeal. Despite being a “restaurant” dish, it’s not at all hard to make at home. It’s basically a chicken breast piccata but one where you first dip the chicken breasts in a light egg batter and pan-fry them to a golden brown before simmering them in a sauce of wine, chicken broth and lemon. The savory egg batter and lemony sauce really do wonders for the rather bland flavor of the chicken breasts.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 4 skinless chicken breasts
  • Flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 lemon, sliced into thin rounds
  • A splash of dry white wine
  • 500ml (2 cups) chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
  • 1 Tb butter
  • 1 Tb flour
  • Salt and pepper

To finish the dish:

  • Finely minced parsley

Directions

With a sharp kitchen knife, cut each chicken breast lengthwise in two thin cutlets. Take each scallop and pound it gently to thin it out a bit further. Trim off any gristle or rough edges.

Dredge each chicken cutlet in flour, seasoned generously with salt and pepper, and then dip it in the egg to coat lightly.

In a large skillet, over moderate heat, brown the chicken cutlets on both sides in olive oil and set aside.

Add a splash of white wine to the skillet and let it evaporate almost entirely, then add the chicken broth.

Let everything simmer for a few minutes so the flavors meld. Add the flour, kneaded together with the butter into a small ball and whisk it into the liquid, which should thicken into a sauce like consistency.

Add the chicken cutlets back into the skillet, along with the lemon slices, and let everything simmer in the sauce for a minute or two to warm up. If need be, add more broth or water so you have ample sauce for napping the cutlets, but they shouldn’t ‘swim’ in it.

At the last moment, taste and adjust the sauce for seasonings, then drizzle in the lemon juice.

Serve the chicken cutlets hot, napped with the sauce and garnished with the lemon slices and minced parsley.

Chicken Francese

Notes on Chicken Francese

I’ve given this classic recipe a few personal touches. First, by cutting the chicken breasts into cutlets rather than leaving them whole. I think this produces a more pleasing balance of meat and sauce. I’ve also tweaked the way the sauce is made. Many recipes will have you add the wine, broth and lemon juice all at once. In this recipe you add them seriatum: a splash of wine for deglazing the pan, followed by the broth, then holding back on the lemon juice until just before serving, to give the sauce bright finish. Finally, while the classic recipe has you sauté the lemon slices in the pan right after the cutlets, I hold them back to simmer in the sauce. I think these little tweaks produce a more balanced tasting sauce and—dare I say it?—more refined dish.

The origins of Chicken Francese are apparently unclear, although there’s some indication that it got its start among the Italian-American community in Upstate New York, around Rochester. It clearly resembles a piccata, and I have to imagine it’s an adaption of that dish, or rather a kind of fusion of the piccata with the cotoletta, or cutlet, which it also resembles. In some tellings, in fact, Chicken Francese was invented as a way to liven up the boredom of regular chicken cutlets.

Francese, as you may have guessed even if you don’t speak Italian, means “French”. And odd as the thought of an Italian-America dish that calls itself French might seem, it makes sense, since the sauce, with its ample broth thickened with a beurre manié, is definitely inspired by French technique, and a clear departure from Italian culinary traditions.

As many will know, the same basic recipe works for fish fillets and veal cutlets, which in fact may have been the original version. But the story that you might have read that Chicken Francese is an adaption of an Italian dish called vitello alla francese brought to America by immigrants seems wrong. I’m not aware of any such Italian dish.

Making Chicken Francese Ahead

Chicken Francese is best served right away, but it can be successfully made ahead and reheated. Complete the recipe up until the last two steps. When you want to serve your dish, add a bit of water or broth to the skillet, then gently bring the sauce back to the simmer and proceed from there.

Chicken Francese

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian-American
Keyword: chicken

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless chicken breasts
  • flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 lemon sliced into rounds
  • A splash of dry white wine
  • 500 ml 2 cups chicken broth preferably homemade
  • 1/2 lemon, juice of or to taste
  • 1 Tb 1 Tb butter
  • 1 Tb 1 Tb flour
  • Salt and pepper

To finish the dish:

  • Finely minced parsley

Instructions

  • With a sharp kitchen knife, cut each chicken breast lengthwise in two thin cutlets. Take each scallop and pound it gently to thin it out a bit further. Trim off any gristle or rough edges.
  • Dredge each chicken cutlet in flour, seasoned generously with salt and pepper, and then dip it in the egg to coat lightly.
  • In a large skillet, over moderate heat, brown the chicken cutlets on both sides in olive oil and set aside.
  • Add a splash of white wine to the skillet and let it evaporate almost entirely, then add the chicken broth.
  • Let everything simmer for a few minutes so the flavors meld. Add the flour, kneaded together with the butter into a small ball and whisk it into the liquid, which should thicken into a sauce like consistency.
  • Add the chicken cutlets back into the skillet, along with the lemon slices, and let everything simmer in the sauce for a minute or two to warm up. If need be, add more broth or water so you have ample sauce for napping the cutlets, but they shouldn't 'swim' in it.
  • At the last moment, taste and adjust the sauce for seasonings, then drizzle in the lemon juice, to taste.
  • Serve the chicken cutlets hot, napped with the sauce and garnished with the lemon slices and minced parsley.

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54 Comments on “Chicken Francese”

  1. Frank,
    Matthew Casamassima here, a long time affectionato ! My roots are in Provinca d’Bari, Mother from Grumo and Father from Torrito !
    Love your site and the Foccoccia and Taralli Dolce & Pizza Dolce seem to be exactly the same recipes as my Grandmother Francesca !
    I impose upon you to comment on whether another site that was popular, SCORDO.com -is it still active – no one seems to know- any info that you can share ?
    Keep up the great work – love your recipes and look forward to them !
    Grazia,
    Matteo

    1. Hi Matthew! And thanks for your readership! As you may have read, my paternal grandfather was from Grumo, so we have something in common! A lot in fact, it sound like. 🙂

      As far as scordo.com is concerned, I’m not really sure. I enjoyed that site, too, and used to exchange messages from time to time with Vince. As you say, the blog’s been quiet for some time now. It happens. Sometime bloggers just tire of the effort, sometimes their life takes a turn where blogging is no longer possible or practicable. Hard to say what happened there. I always like it when the blogger leaves a message to let readers know they’re taking a break or simply giving up blogging, but it’s very much the exception to the rule.

  2. Ciao Frank…this not only looks delicious but I’m positive it tastes wonderful…I love anything with lemons so this is my kind of dish! Have you tried it with Meyer lemons? Take care, stay safe!

    1. Sure, I know Meyer lemons well and like them very much. I’m not keen on sharply acidic flavors so they’re mildness really appeals to me. I bet they’s actually work very well in this dish.

  3. Frank, this looks and sounds so wonderful. Growing up, my mom used to make a similar dish that we all looked forward to each week. This brings back warm and delicious memories. Thank you. 🙂 ~Valentina

  4. You say “chicken breast piccata … where you first dip the chicken breasts in a light egg batter and pan-fry them to a golden brown before simmering them in a sauce of wine, chicken broth and lemon” as if it’s just something one does on any old day, but MAN, does that sound delicious! I’m eager to try it.

  5. Amazingly wonderful! You’re recipes are now my # 1 resource for my weekly menu. Everything I’ve tried is outstanding!

  6. My mother used to make Chicken Francese all the time when I was growing up — and her roots were deep in New England. However, she always called it Chicken Français… (probably because she had no idea that Chicken Francese was Italian-American) I haven’t made it in ages and I think we will have it this week.

    1. We actually never had this dish at home. But I remember how ubiquitous it was (and probably still is) on restaurant menus. An oldie but a goodie…

  7. Thank you for this wonderful recipe, Frank. I made it last night and it was delicious. The chicken pieces were beautifully golden-browned, tender and juicy. I did add a little parm cheese to the flour mixture. There were leftovers, so I’ve been thinking of making a quick chicken parmigiana with them.
    This recipe is a keeper, as are all your recipes I’ve tried.

  8. What a scrumptious looking dish, Frank. I usually make chicken piccata, without the flour and egg, but this looks like a nice variation. I too, wait till the end to add the lemon juice, for exactly the reason you mentioned,

    1. Thanks so much, Linda. This makes for a pleasant change, even if truth be told I prefer the original most of the time.

  9. This looks delicious. I have a question about the amount of chicken broth called for. The recipe reads 500ml (1 cup), but, as far as I understand, 500ml is approximately 2 cups. Can you please clarify this for me? Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the catch, Robert. What I meant was 2 cups, will correct! But I wouldn’t worry too much about the exact measurements, in any event, as I mention in the post, you may find yourself adding enough liquid as you need to have ample sauce without letting the cutlets “swim”…

  10. The flavours sound wonderful in this dish. And it looks so easy too. I’m going to get this on the menu plan for tomorrow (tonight is butter chicken!) I believe the Hungarians do a flour and egg coating similar to this, I’m excited to give it a try.

  11. It really is amazing how murky the waters are when you dig into recipe origins. So many recipes were “invented” by chefs trying to please particularly grumpy customers. It makes me wonder how many of those are true. Either way, this is certainly a great way to celebrate Italian-American Heritage month! There is no doubt that this is a fusion dish – even working a bit of French technique in. No matter the origins, I’ll gladly sit down to a plate of this one, Frank!

    1. Thanks, David. Food history is a subject that I always find fascinating. I just wish I had more time to dedicate to “detective work”… !

  12. such contaminations always fascinates me: what people bring from the homeland and what they bring in from their new, different environment.

    1. Indeed it’s a fascinating subject. One that I’ve wanted to explore more deeply and not just for the US. There are other diapora populations, such as in Argentina, that have developed their own unique “contaminations”. If I only had more spare time!

  13. *smile* The distance across the Pond seems to have become wider overnight ! I have never heard about this way of cooking chicken nor seen it offered on any restaurant menu here or overseas. ! I do remember eating both chicken and veal piccata in Italy . . . . rarely eat chicken breast and almost never use flour/egg coating on proteins . . . But I very much like your finished product and the recipe is already in the kitchen for a trial . . .

    1. It’s pretty much unique to Italian-American cookery. And yes, you certainly won’t see a dish like this in Italy. The flour/egg coating is a bit different, but really just a variation on the usual breading, just without the outer layer of breadcrumbs. Makes for an interesting change of pace.

  14. I’ve enjoyed making and serving chicken francese but often it turns out too lemony. Excited to try it your way. PS I love the dish!! Where can I purchase? Thank you.

    1. I’m the same way. I don’t care for strongly acid flavors. That’s why I’ve made some of those tweaks to the dish. You can hold back on the lemon juice at the end, I like to put in a few drops, just enough to brighten the dish a bit. But I’m afraid you’ll have to make this at home. I don’t ship… 😉

  15. I haven’t had this dish in years! When we lived in New York we saw it on restaurant menus all the time. I’ve made this dish once or twice — it’s easy and so flavorful. Your version looks particularly nice — I do like that you cut the chicken into cutlets. Chicken breasts are way too big these days! Anyway, good stuff — thanks.

  16. The origin of recipes that stick around is so interesting to me; just like this one! I love piccata so this would be delicious, too, I’m sure.

    1. If you like piccata, I’m fairly sure you’d like this as well. I actually like piccata better but this makes for a nice change.

  17. That looks delicious! I’ve seriously gone off chicken, but something like this makes me want to go out and buy some, because I know it’s going to taste great!

  18. Armida Latela, from Abruzzo, taught me this recipe 30 some years ago. It’s the only chicken chicken breast recipe my Roman husband will even consider eating. Difficile. Not the chicken. Him.

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