Scaloppine dishes are some of the most quintessential everyday secondi piatti in the Italian repertoire. Thin slices of meat are lightly floured then quickly sautéed in a skillet, which is deglazed with wine to form a quick and tasty sauce. Lightening fast but also super-tasty, with a touch of elegance, scalloppine are equally suited for quick weekday meals or special occasions. It’s no wonder they are a favorite among home cooks and restaurants alike.
The piccata is a special sub-category of scaloppine dishes where the sauce includes not only the usual white wine, but also a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, capers and parsley, lending it particular color and zest.
Piccata di pollo, or Chicken Piccata, isn’t a particularly common dish in Italy, where scaloppine are typically made with veal. But, of course, it’s enormously popular here in America. And for good reason—it’s one of the tastiest ways to prepare chicken breast. Done right, a piccata di pollo is moist and flavorful, even if you’re working with a less than exemplary supermarket bird.
For 4-6 servings:
- 4-6 chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper
- Butter or olive oil, or a mixture of both
To make the pan sauce:
- 200 ml (3/4 cup) white wine
- The juice of one lemon, freshly squeezed
- A handful of capers
- A knob of butter
- A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
Begin by removing the small tenderloin from each chicken breast, that small muscle on the undersid of the breast. Slice chicken breast horizontally, so that you wind up with two fillets per breast of roughly equal thickness. If your breast is especially large then you may want to slice it into three scallops.
Take each slice, place it between two sheets of parchment paper, then pound it gently with a meat pounder or the back of a skillet. Do the same with the tenderloin. The resulting scalloppine should be quite thin, about 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch.
Lightly flour the scalloppine. Heat a skillet with olive oil and a knob of butter over moderate heat. When the butter has melted and stopped bubbling, add the scalloppine and brown them lightly on both sides. Season them with salt on both sides, giving them a final turn as you do. Remove and keep warm.
Pour the white wine into the skillet and scrap up the bottom of the skillet. Let the wine simmer for a minute or two, then add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and capers.
Return the scalloppine to the pan and turn them in the sauce for just a few moments, until they’re heated through and the sauce has thickened a bit. Transfer the scalloppine to a serving dish or platter.
Turn off the flame. Swirl in the butter and minced parsley into the sauce until it reaches a creamy consistence. Pour over the scalloppine and top with some additional minced parsley if you like.
Perhaps the most important point to bear in mind when preparing a piccata di pollo is to make sure the slices are nice and thin. This not only allows them to cook quickly, but also ensures the right balance between meat and sauce so every bite is full of flavor. The typical chicken breast needs slicing in half, but some larger breasts—and these days chicken breasts can be truly enormous—will need slicing in thirds. It’s also usually a good idea to flatten the breast. Not only does this ensure a thinner slice, but the pounding tenderizes the meat. Go gentle, however. You don’t want to smash your scaloppine or they may break apart.
Another point to bear mind: Make sure your flame is nice and high so the chicken browns before it overcooks in the middle. But not so high, of course, that you burn the butter.
It is also important to reduce the sauce to the right consistency, just thick enough to coat the scallops nicely, but not so thick that the thing becomes stodgy.
Finally, for North American readers: I find that Wondra flour works especially well here. Wondra’s fine texture helps the meat to brown nicely, and the light coating helps thickens the sauce without any hint of stodginess, which can sometimes happen when you use regular flour.
Scaloppine is to second courses what pasta is to first courses: almost infinitely variable. Chicken is itself a kind of variation, since classic scaloppine are made with veal. Turkey scaloppine are a common variation in Italy (much more so than chicken) as is the use of pork loin, which is quite similar to veal in taste and texture, but much less expensive.
But the real variety comes from the multitude of sauces you can nap your scalloppine with. Perhaps the most common scaloppine dish is made with Marsala wine. But you can also nap your scaloppine with tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, cream and mushrooms, olives, sautéed zucchini… you name it.
The classic Roman variation of scaloppine with prosciutto and sage is the scrumptious saltimbocca. It means ‘jump in your mouth’ because it’s so good that you’ll want to wolf it down.
And our American readers may well recognize a close resemblance between piccata di pollo and an Italian-American classic, Chicken Francese. Quite close in technique, it eschews the capers and leans heavily into the lemon. Not just the juice mind you, but slices as well.
Piccata di pollo
- 4-6 chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper
- Butter or olive oil or a mixture of both
To make the sauce:
- 200ml 3/4 cup white wine
- The juice of one lemon freshly squeezed
- A handful of capers
- A knob of butter
- A few sprigs of parsley finely chopped
- Begin by removing the small tenderloin from each chicken breast, that small muscle on the underside of the breast. Slice chicken breast horizontally, so that you wind up with two or three slices per breast depending on thickness.
- Take each slice, place it between two sheets of parchment paper, then pound it gently with a meat pounder or the back of a skillet. Do the same with the tenderloin. The resulting scalloppine should be about 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch.
- Lightly flour the scalloppine. Heat a skillet with olive oil and a knob of butter over moderate heat. When the butter has melted and stopped bubbling, add the scalloppine and brown them lightly on both sides. Season them with salt on both sides, giving them a final turn as you do. Remove and keep warm.
- Pour the white wine into the skillet and scrap up the bottom of the skillet. Let the wine simmer for a minute or two, then add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and capers.
- Return the scalloppine to the pan and turn them in the sauce for just a few moments, until they're heated through and the sauce has thickened a bit. Transfer the scalloppine to a serving dish or platter.
- Turn off the flame. Swirl in a dab of butter and the minced parsley into the sauce until it reaches a creamy consistence. Pour over the scalloppine and top with some additional minced parsley if you like.
- Serve immediately.
Dear Frank: Made this picatta recipe with chicken and it was a hit. So simple. Tried it with fresh flounder and had the same results. The recipe is quite adaptable. Thanks and many thanks for all the other wonderful recipes that stoke my Italian-American childhood memories of Mom’s cooking.
That’s fantastic, Robert! Thanks so much for your kinds words.
Frank, I’ve eaten piccata di pollo while in the US a number of times, but I’ve never made it. I do make veal scaloppine, but as always you’ve educated me on the dish. I must now try making the chicken version as chicken is a heck of a lot cheaper than veal here.
And here, too, Ron! Surely one reason why chicken is far more popular here than the original veal version. Thanks for stopping by!
Lemon + capers has always been a favorite of mine. I especially love it with chicken (and sometimes a mild fish). Beautiful!!! 🙂 ~Valentina
Thanks so much, Valentina! It is a wonderful combination of flavors for sure.
It’s been a long time since I’ve made chicken piccata, but now you’ve got me craving it, and eager to try out your recipe!
Thanks, Jeff! Hope you like it.
Is this a rework of an older post, Frank? Because I’ve often used that older post (scaloppine di pollo) to recreate the piccata sauce :). It’s one of my favourites, very easy and superbly tasty! (And unlike an Americanized version I saw, it did not include 4 cloves of minced garlic, which is a positive for my not-so-garlic-smitten husband.) These new pictures really help the recipe to put it’s best foot forward 🙂 I usually use pork or chicken.
Guilty as charged! 😉 Indeed, this is an updated version of that 2009 post. The photos, yes, and also did a fair amount of editing of the text for more clarity. The original dated from the days when I first started blogging and I’ve learned a lot since then!
And although I rather like garlic, this is not the dish for it, and especially not in those quantities! Sounds dreadful.
Such a nice classic, elegant and simple to make. I do make it nearly similar to your one but sometime I use veal as well.
Veal is a great choice, Raymund! And in fact more classically Italian than chicken.
Ah, I do enjoy chicken piccata, and you hit the nail on the head when you noted that this is perhaps one of the tastiest ways to cook chicken. I’m craving it now after seeing your photos! I appreciate the parallels you drew in the post between other similar recipes. Interesting tip about Wondra – I’ll have to keep that in mind!
Do that, David. Wondra really does live up to its name! And I’m usually suspicious of any processed ingredients.
Such an elegant dish, Frank. You may remember when I was aghast at Mark’s version (now called chicken Marccata) – he now knows that this, your version, is the real deal.
Ha! I had forgotten about Chicken Marccata, lol. But as yummy as that did sound, this is indeed the real deal. I say enjoy both!
What a flavourful dish, and so versatile. I love making the sauce from the bits leftover from cooking the meat.
I’m not sure what is going on in America but the chicken breasts are enormous! When we were there (before the world fell apart), I got a breast at Fry’s and it was 500 g! It looked like a Turkey breast. That’s just crazy! We’re in Spain right now and chickens are more normal size. They even sell, beautifully sliced scaloppini breast already thinly sliced.
You’re so right about those breasts! I have to wonder what they do to those birds to get the breasts so unnaturally large…
*smile* If I meet the word ‘piccata’ veal naturally comes to mind first . . . but milk veal is becoming almost impossible to get here from commercial sources ! Love the dish you have so perfectly made – making it it is probably the only time I do use chicken breast buying thighs for most of my cooking. Methinks the result wholly depends on a perfectly grown bird and a deft touch – there is absolutely nowhere to hide 🙂 !!!
Indeed, true veal really is hard to come by these days, isn’t it?
My mom would always flour the smelts at Christmas time with Wondra. They were superbly fried.
Wondra is the greatest. 🙂
Exactly how I make it! And you’ve reminded me that it’s been much too long since the last time I made this. Usually have it when I have company and that hasn’t been happening much for the past couple of years!
Great minds think alike, lol! It is a great company dish, though I make it from time to time for us, since it’s so very easy. But for me, too, it had been a while. When you’re a “foodie”, I guess, as we are always looking for new culinary experiences, it can sometimes be easy to forget the tried and true.
Totally agree about Wondra! I’ve been using it lately for flouring things that I’m going to saute. Anyway, really, really like this dish. It’s still possible to get good veal, but I have to go to a butcher these days (my supermarket sometimes has OK veal, but usually not). So I most often make this dish with chicken or turkey cutlets, sometimes pork (which is worth trying). Your version looks excellent — thanks.
Thanks John! Yes, I think they all taste great. And how could they not, with that sauce, amirite?
Another classic and I’m inclined to say that the flavouring improves chicken tremendously! I wonder if piccata is related to the Catalan picada, which is a flavour enhancer and thickener added to dishes towards the end of cooking. It’s a lot thicker, but provides a similar umami boost.
Interesting! Your comment had me Googling picada, which I hadn’t heard of but now I want to try. Picada does sound delicious!
It’s a funny thing, I haven’t really been able to quite figure out the origin of the term piccata. As you know, I usually like to give some background on the name and origin of dishes. But it’s not at all straightforward, so I left the rather convoluted explanation out of the post.
Here’s my best guess: The verb piccare in Italian seems to be a bit of a false friend to the Spanish picar, although they derive from the same Latin word. Piccare literally means to run through with a pike (picca) and less literally to pierce, although it has lots of figurative meanings as does picar in Spanish. In the culinary context it means to lard—where as picar (as of course you know) means to chop up or mince. But piccare can apparently also be used as a synonym (though I’ve never heard it used this way in day to day conversation) for picchiare or battere, i.e. more generally to hit something. And it’s in that sense I gather it’s used here, a reference to the pounding the meat gets to flatten it out. Whereas picada I take it must refer to what happens to the ingredients that go into the sauce?
Ha ha – there’s definitely some culinary wishful thinking on my part in trying to connect dots that might not exist. Much of this comes from the origin of Catalan cusine being quite Roman, followed by a Moorish influence and then the Catalan Aragonese rule over much of Italy for several hundred years (where I’m sure it all became a fantastic melting pot). Picar does mean to chop or mince, but it’s also to crush or pound (as in, with a mortar and pestle) plus to prick and sting.
I came across something here that suggests a piccata relationship to the French pique, as in sharp or piquant, but it doesn’t offer much more than that. I’m quite sure the picada must relate to pesto and perhaps gremolada.
Do try the picada, it does give a tremendous boost to food at the end of cooking.
I make this dish quite often it’s a hit with the family. I normally start it in the pan as you say brown the chicken then make the sauce as you do then put all into a baking dish pour the sauce over the chicken and a few thin lemon slices on top of the chicken. It still works well this way and is equally delicious.