9 December 2012

Velvety Marsala Chicken & Mushrooms

I haven't posted a meal plan for this week because hubby's sore throat has meant that our plans have changed from day to day, depending on how he is.  After all, it's no good my spending time in the kitchen making a tomato based meal containing chilli if that would be inedible for him!

So following on from the Slow Cooked Chicken Stew with Dumplings that did him so much good, we had a bit of a diversion in the form of a Chinese takeaway.  The chicken curry contained therein was a bit frisky, but didn't affect him adversely, so I knew I could stretch the ingredients list for the next dish.

I'd had it in mind to cook a chicken dish in a mild creamy sauce, to be served with rice.  The finer details hadn't really gelled at that stage, so I began to consider the flavours I wanted to go with it.  Mushrooms were a given, as I had a bit of a glut of mushrooms in the fridge at the time.  However, should I go down the tarragon, Marsala or mushroom ketchup route?

Tarragon goes very well with mushrooms - and with Marsala wine.  So I decided to go with tarragon, whatever happened.  It would add another dimension to the dish and I could save a little tarragon to add a fresh green note and a tiny crunch, at the end.

So - Marsala -v- mushroom ketchup.   They both had promise and would be fine bedfellows with the cream in the sauce.  The mushroom ketchup would accentuate the flavour of the chestnut mushrooms and send the dish down a more savoury route.  However, the Marsala wine would be a different flavour altogether, adding to the layers of flavour that were planned already.  Plus, it was sweet - and with the Savoy cabbage and plain rice I was planning on serving it with, would provide a lovely contrast to their flavours.

It was the added dimension that the Marsala would bring, that swung it for me.  Now, if you don't have any Marsala wine and want to have a crack at this dish (it was simplicity itself to make), a medium Sherry would be just perfect as an alternative.

I just knew that the velvety creaminess of the savoury/sweet sauce would go so, so well with the Savoy cabbage.  However, I opted not to tell the chaps about the cabbage aspect of the dish.  *wink*  I knew there'd be objections, if I did - but I also knew that if they just gave it a go, there was every possibility that they'd like it a lot.  Which they did!

In the event, I did have a bit of a waver when preparing the cabbage and decided to include a few peas, just in case one or both of them really didn't like the cabbage.  I felt the presence of a pea or two might have just meant the difference between rejection or acceptance.  I know.  It's unlikely - but there you are, that was the way I was thinking at the time.  Well, it made me feel better!

As it was, this dish was an absolutely corker.  (For those of you who might not know what "a corker" is - it's "something above average".  So in other words, it was flipping lovely!).  The chicken was cooked perfectly and still moist and juicy.  The celery and onion had disappeared into the sauce - just as I had planned it - leaving their flavour behind.  The garlic wasn't in evidence beyond adding to the savoury nature of the sauce and the Marsala/chicken stock/cream combination was just divine.

One of the best parts of the dish was the combination of the velvety sauce with the Savoy cabbage, hence I thoroughly recommend you include some Savoy when you make it.  The rice was very welcome as a plain counterpoint to the richness of the sauce.   Mashed potato would have been too buttery and just tipped the flavours too much into the rich & fatty.  As it was, with its accompaniments, it was perfect.

Everything prepared and ready to go - so that you can see how small to chop!
Now, a couple of notes for when you cook the dish.  The combination of butter and oil to fry the chicken, is very necessary for the flavour, so don't be tempted to drop the butter part.  The butter is the starting point for the development of the flavour in the sauce.  The oil is there simply to stop the butter from burning at a high temperature - so don't be tempted to drop the oil either, or you'll have horrid black specks in your sauce!

Where the chicken stock is concerned, you will see I use an entire Knorr stock pot (usually dissolved in 400ml of water) for 150ml of stock.   This is entirely intentional, as you need the intense chicken flavour for the sauce.  Only using half a stock pot (or cube - your choice) will result in a lacklustre sauce.

Lastly, for all that I have said to use 150ml of double cream, be ready to have some left over.  It is good to have that little bit of cream there, just in case you are delayed in dishing up and your sauce becomes too reduced.  Just add a fraction of water and a drop more cream, stir well and your sauce will be restored.

The sauce - it is there, honest! - is hiding beneath the cabbage.

It would be possible to use a low fat creme fraiche and gain similar results, while reducing the fat content of the dish.  However - do not allow the sauce to boil (or even simmer rapidly) once you have added the low fat creme fraiche.  This is most important - or you will split the sauce and wind up with horrid flabby lumps floating around!  Cream, because of its high fat content, will emulsify with the liquid of the sauce and be fairly stable.  Low fat creme fraiche, only emulsifies at a lower temperature.  So you have been warned!

So there you have it!  I thoroughly enjoyed this dish - and my menfolk did too.  You can't get better recommendation than that.


Ingredients :

2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
a large knob of butter
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1" chunks
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
6-7 large chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
150ml sweet Marsala wine
150ml chicken stock (using an entire Knorr stock pot or stock cube)
fresh tarragon , to make 2 tbsp when finely chopped
150ml double cream.

Method :

1.  Take a large deep frying pan and heat the oil together with the butter.  Once the butter is foaming, add the chicken and turn the heat to high.  Make sure the chicken doesn't crowd the pan, as you want it to fry and not poach.  Brown the chicken in batches, if necessary.  Season the chicken and leave it to gain a golden colour.  Just turn the chicken the once, as keeping on turning it doesn't let the colour develop and the chicken will overcook before you've gained the right golden brown colour on at least two sides.  Once browned, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve to keep warm.

2.  Add the onions to the pan and stir lightly to coat in the oils.  Allow the onions to fry, stirring occasionally, until transparent and just turning golden.  You don't want any brown or black onions for this dish.

3.  Add the garlic and stir to combine.  Fry for approximately a minute, then add the celery and continue to stir and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

4.  Add the sliced mushrooms - you may need to add a little more butter at this stage, as mushrooms will drink up the oil in the pan.  However, don't overdo the butter because as they cook, they will release a certain amount back into the pan again.  Cook the mushrooms until they are softened.

5.  Increase the heat under the pan and return the chicken to the pan.  Add the Marsala and allow to frizzle, which will help to burn off a percentage of the alcohol.  Reduce the temperature of the pan so that the wine returns to a simmer and cook for another few minutes, until reduced by a third.

6.  Add the chicken stock and two thirds of the tarragon and stir through.  Continue on a lively simmer until reduced by half.  Taste for seasoning and add more if necessary.

7.  Add two thirds of the cream and stir through.  Continue to simmer and reduce - without boiling - until the sauce has achieved your preferred consistency.  In this instance, I like the sauce to be at double cream consistency - sufficient to coat the back of a spoon.  Add the remaining tarragon and stir through.

Serve on a bed of Savoy cabbage and peas, with plain white rice.

Printable version


  1. I honestly could reach into the computer and lick the screen... can i?... can i?

    1. It's just as well you can't do that, or I'd have to relegate myself to salad blogs only! lol I know what you mean though, Dom. Every time I see the pictures, it makes my mouth water too. :)

  2. This looks lovely! I will have to try it as my hubby LOVES mushrooms!

  3. I made this at the weekend and it was lovely. I could only get dry, rather than sweet, Marsala (the man at Waitrose claims there's a country-wide shortage??) but it was still really good. I used low fat creme fraiche rather than double cream (too many mince pies at Christmas!) and made sure it didn't boil and it was fine, didn't split. Thanks for posting the recipe!


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