Chicken piccata or veal piccata is a traditional Italian dish, very often available in Italian restaurants. Piccata translates to piquant or piquancy, which in one definition means tart or zesty. This dish does have a tart sauce, with traditional additions of lemon juice, white wine and capers. It’s also quite easy to prepare, especially in small batches.
Many people prefer to make this dish from chicken instead of of veal because it is less expensive, and many prefer not to eat veal since they feel growing methods for the meat are cruel. It is also acceptable to use pork instead. Vegetarians can prepare the dish using thin slices of tofu or eggplant, but meat substitutes will not produce a very rich sauce.
Using very thin slices of chicken is essential to properly constructing the dish. A half breast should usually be horizontally sliced in half and then pounded with a mallet until the slices are about an 1/8 of an inch (about 0.31 cm) thick. Since most people do not precisely measure their food, the best way to aim for the desired thinness is to pound the meat until it is almost translucent or see-through.
Pounding the meat to the desired thinness is probably the most time consuming process in the construction of chicken piccata. A cook can certainly do this the night before, but the meat should then be refrigerated again. Placing the meet in a sealable plastic bag or putting it between two layers of plastic wrap before pounding can help prevent a mess. The cook should be careful when working with raw meat, as it can sometimes harbor salmonella or E. coli. He or she should be sure to wash all surfaces used during the pounding process, and wash the hands for at least 30 seconds with warm, soapy water after handling raw meat.
The chicken is then dredged in a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper, and the excess flour should be dusted off. In a medium heat pan, the chef should cook the thin slices of chicken very quickly, about a minute to two on each side. Overcooking the meat can ruin the dish.
Once the chicken is cooked in a little bit of olive oil, the cook would traditionally add garlic, and sage. Capers, brined green berries, may also be added at this time. Once the garlic becomes translucent, wine and lemon juice are added to deglaze the pan, producing a tart sauce. The meat is then combined with the sauce and cooked over low heat for about a minute so it can become infused with the sauce's flavors.
In preparing chicken piccata, the cook should be careful when adding the wine to a dish on an open flame. It can easily flame up, particularly if any wine spills on the burner. If a chef is preparing this dish for a large group, the frying process can be done in several batches while the meat keeps warm in a 200°F (93.33°C) oven.
Chicken piccata can be served with rice or pasta as a side dish, and it is particularly good with rice pilaf. Steamed or fried vegetables, like summer squash, also pair well with it. In total, including prep time, the dish takes about 20 minutes to make, so it is a quick and tasty way to get dinner on the table. For a little added flair, a chef can add a few sprigs of parsley on the top before bringing the dish to the table.