Food You Can Eat: Chicken Marsala

My recipe is among the easiest ways to make Chicken Marsala, although this is garlicky. This recipe feeds two hungry people. The dog has to go without for this one. Well, a little chicken with spaghetti wouldn’t kill him. I wonder if a PETA member reads FYCE? Or the ASPCA? No time to be distracted, pitter patter let’s get at her, as they say on the brilliant “Letterkenny.”


2 plump chicken breasts, about 1 lb. each.

A little olive oil. You’re lightly coating a skillet with this so you don’t need much.

1/2 stick butter, but you won’t be using it all. Butter-butter, not margarine.

A small bowl filled halfway with flour. You can add more if needed. And keep more on hand just in case.

Some garlic powder, maybe 1 tsp at most.

Some salt, maybe 1/2 tsp.

1/2 lb. of large mushrooms. Mushrooms I recommend buying “fresh,” or at least not in industrial packaging and not shipped in from elsewhere. Although Manhattan doesn’t exactly abound with mushroom farms, but we have farmers’ markets and sidewalk stalls. Wash and slice these.

3 cloves of garlic that have suffered through your garlic press. Otherwise, dice as small as you can make them.

1 cup of Marsala wine. You probably don’t have this hanging around the house. I have a fairly extensive bar and I never do. It’s a fortified wine, so if, for some reason, you have sherry or port you can substitute. I used port because I am living at the dawn of the 20th century a bottle came as a promo giveaway during one of my monthly liquor orders. You can also use 1/2 cup Marsala(-ish) wine and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Chicken broth to me is too salty, but there must be a low-sodium variety out there.

1/2 cup of heavy cream. This is important. No half-and-half, no whole milk, and certainly not that vile fat-free “milk” that my gym-rat Other Half drinks. 

8 oz. thin spaghetti. Or the hell with it, make the whole box, 16 oz. Optional, but not for me. See note.


Add garlic powder and salt to the flour in the bowl and stir it all around. 

In a large skillet, and I really need to ask Santa to bring me another one, both of mine are well-seasoned but there is a season, turn, turn turn…create a puddle of olive oil and add a chunk of butter, maybe 1 tbs. Put this on medium-high. Stir so you make an oily butter liquid. 

Slice the two chicken breasts in half. You can leave them on your cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, and pound them thin, but that doesn’t really matter here.

Dip the four chicken breast halves in your flour mixture and coat. Shake over the bowl so the excess falls off. One at a time, put them in your oily butter skillet. The thinner they are the quicker this will go. If you beat them into about a 1/4” submission 3 minutes on each side should be enough. If you left them alone 5 or 6 minutes per side.

With tongs, move them to a plate. Don’t try to dry them off, you want them to be moistened. And by the way, why does the term “moist” cause so much online ridicule?

Don’t take the skillet off the heat because back to the skillet we go. It is time for your mushrooms to shine. Carve out another hunk of butter, a little more than you used before for the oily butter, so 1 1/2 tbs., and stir that around for a bit. Dump in your mushrooms. Spread evenly. Let them sit there for a couple of minutes, enjoying their new home, and stir again. They should now be changing color a little bit and sweating. You might be changing color and sweating at this point. Keep that open bottle of Marsala/port/cooking sherry handy. Do this for another 5 or so minutes. Not the drinking out of the bottle, pace yourself, the mushroom stirring. Then add your garlic over the top and stir for another couple of minutes. 

Now, reduce the heat and simmer, pour in your “Marsala,” or whatever it is, and the heavy cream, and get that simmering. I add half the Marsala, stir, half the cream, stir, and again. Since the Marsala and the cream are room temp everything will cool down so you have to get everyone excited again. Get it back up to simmering.

FINALLY (I thought this was supposed to be easy, Cousin Matthew with your damned Tingling Leg), add your four chicken breast halves to the skillet. 

Start boiling a pot of water for your pasta. 

NOTE: If you’re not serving over pasta, and you’re feeling ambitious, you can steam or roast some asparagus, or make an asparagus salad. I have a twin from another mother. She and I are the only two people I know who make Chicken Marsala for each other (and our partners.) She forgoes the pasta and makes an asparagus accompaniment. I love asparagus but that’s a spring vegetable if you’re a purist. I’m not really, but if I’m still at this in 2021 I could do a “Joys of Asparagus” survey.

Keep the chicken simmering in the mixture for another few minutes. Using your tongs, and this is my own strange thing, after 5 minutes grab a breast half, slide it around the skillet so it creates chaos, and while you’re at it turn. Do it to all of them. At this point, if your water is boiling, add the pasta. Keep the chicken simmering in the sauce for another 5 minutes.

If you think your sauce is not reducing enough you can add a little more flour to thicken it. Stir it in though, flour can get a little clumpy if left to its own devices.

Remove the skillet from the heat but leave it on the stovetop and let it rest. This will allow the sauce to thicken and cool it down a little. This requires a little juggling. I am left-handed, so I make this in a skillet on the left-front burner. The pasta I boil on the right-front burner. I move the skillet to the left-back burner.

When your spaghetti is done (I don’t recommend al dente) pour into a colander, shake it up baby and twist and shout, and then put it on two large plates. What I do is—honestly, we eat like horses. My metabolism abruptly quit and left no forwarding address years ago, and I haven’t seen the inside of a gym since my freshman year of college back in the second Truman administration. My other half, on the other hand, is in fighting trim and spends lots of quality time at a gym 7 days a week—put half the pasta divided on each of the two plates, place one chicken half on each, spoon over half of your Marsala sauce, divided, and consume. Then go back for seconds. Leave the chicken and sauce in the skillet to keep warm and the pasta in the colander on top of a plate.

I don’t normally serve this over-pasta version with anything except wine. It’s pretty rich. You could serve with a very simple salad but I never have.



  1. That sounds delicious (as does all your food, Cousin M). I like your “dredge” of flour and garlic powder; I often dredge whatever protein is on the menu, and it works to keep in the juices and add color, yes? Also, I think that you should buy a third chicken breast for the faithful four-legged companion…

    • I love dredging. 
      For The Faithful Hound, The Other Half usually doesn’t eat his entire portion, so I scrape off the sauce from some chicken as best I can (he’s crazy enough; I don’t need him to be slightly inebriated, even from cooked-off wine) and give him a little of the spaghetti. I put this on his kibble and he devours it. 
      I mentioned elsewhere that I am a man defeated as far as Thanksgiving this year. I’m putting in an order from a great Chinese place that we haven’t ordered from in months. I really like them because I ask them to make a version that they and their staff would like, meaning not the bland stuff in the sugary, gloopy sauces so popular around here. And they comply, very spicy, minimal sauce, they throw in things…The Forager-in-Chief, who will be picking this up for me, is not a fan of this, so for him I’m ordering a few things he would like from the regular menu. To make their lives even more miserable when I called them to talk about this they told me they could stir-fry some chicken and put it in a container of plain white rice, so that’s what The Faithful Hound will be having.
      We will be Celebrating the Bounty that The Good Forager-in-Chief will Provideth.

  2. I have a confession to make:  years ago, during my restaurant days, I worked saute at a number of Italian restaurants.  All of them had Chicken Marsala on the menu.  Let me tell you, this is a colossal pain in the ass for a saute station because it takes forever (15 minutes), and if you are already backed up with people waiting in the lobby for an hour, then any bottleneck to your productivity is a killer.  Most pasta dishes take 5 minutes or less to make–but this one is death to a productive dinner rush.  Anyway, I noticed at some point that whenever I’d get an order for this early in the dinner rush, within 10 minutes after sending it out to the floor I would get a shitload of orders from other people who had seen the first one go out and wanted it.  This would clog my entire saute station and put everything on hold.  For those of you who don’t know, a restaurant kitchen is barely controlled chaos.  As with comedy, timing is everything.  If you have a table of four and one person orders something quick like spaghetti and red sauce, another orders a dinner salad, another orders grilled fish and another orders a well done steak…well, you can’t just start cooking all that shit at once.  Every station has to be in constant communication with each other (usually through the chef) so that each person on the line knows when to start their part of the order.  So, if I have a 16-eye saute station, and 10 of those eyes are taken up with fucking Chicken Marsala, then it bogs the whole operation down.
    I’m getting to the confession, just wait a goddamned minute.  So, one day, I get my usual Chicken Marsala order, but this time I get distracted by a bunch of other shit and realize that I’ve overcooked it.  Instead of the dreamy-looking image at the top of this post, it was dark and shriveled and barely edible.  I didn’t care.  I sent it out anyway.  Then, as Salieri said, a miracle occurred:  I didn’t get another order for Chicken Marsala for a blessed hour.  That first ugly dish turned so many people off that nobody wanted it and chose something else.  This enabled me (and, by extension, the whole line) to be much more productive and churn through all those orders faster, which kept the wait time down.  I had stumbled upon a glorious solution to my problem.  So, from that day until I finally left the restaurant business behind, whenever I got an order for Chicken Marsala, I would make it as ugly as possible (but not overcook it because I didn’t want them sending it back) so that I would only receive an average of one of these orders per hour.  Don’t judge me until you’ve spent 10 hours on your feet in a 100 degree kitchen slinging pans and trying to ignore the grease burn on your hand.  I regret nothing.

    • My best friend is married to a fancy chef who has had several $$$$ restaurants. The stress is incredible. Stories of him screaming at staff are legendary. He is quite a character. I’m glad for you to be away from the line.

    • Working in a restaurant kitchen is my worst nightmare scenario. A friend of mine went through a very vigorous and specialized cooking school program and got hired at a high-end restaurant. He lasted one night. His boss, who I don’t think was the chef even, maybe the sous chef, said something along the lines of “You’re taking for-fucking-ever and your fucking [stuff] tastes like ass. Leave. Now. I’ll take over.”
      People I have over are far more forgiving and I always have a lot of wine on hand and the hound to distract and amuse, so…I’ve have had some really terrible meals at fairly expensive restaurants but I’ve never complained, I’ve never sent anything back, the waiter always gets 20%, I just decide to never go again. I take notes though because on my endless culinary journey I always think, “I may not have a restaurant kitchen but I think I know what the chef/cook is going for here…”, a little Googling, and try to re-create. It usually works out pretty well. However, I wouldn’t want to be in charge of churning out 200 portions of it over the course of six or eight hours.

      • My criminal father started as a chef, which is how I wound up in the business as well.  He was definitely your classic asshole chef, screaming and throwing shit everywhere.  I worked for him only once, and quit after about a month.
        I’ve got a cousin who is also a chef and I remember when we were much younger and he’d stated his intentions to enter the field.  I said to him, “it’s absolutely, positively, the worst fucking career path for anyone who has any interest in retaining their soul.  However, if anyone can make it without destroying themselves, I think it would be you.”  He’s been quite successful over the decades and has miraculously managed not to kill himself or anyone else.  It’s probably all the dope he smokes.

        • Chefs, the men anyway, are kind of notorious for drinking, drugging, catting around, and in general being hell raisers. They’re also good linguists because they need to know how to swear and intimidate in many languages that the underlings would understand. 
          Whenever I go to a restaurant, whether with just The Other Half or a group, and we’re asked if we want to sit near the open kitchen (a concept I’ve never understood, but some restaurants have them) I always decline. I myself have an open kitchen but I feel no stress, it’s only me, we’ll eat when we eat, people in my own apartment are my friends or friends of friends, or family, so, whatever. It’s a free meal, and by the way could someone open another bottle and pour the chef a glass? This is taking a little longer than I was planning for.

          • Open kitchens are the worst.  Plus, when Mrs. Butcher and I are eating out, the last thing we want to be doing is shouting over the noise of the kitchen.  There’s a chain of Italian restaurants called Buca di Beppo, and they all have one table actually inside the kitchen.  They walk customers from the host station, through the kitchen and to their tables (unless their table is the kitchen table).  Ain’t no way I’d want to be in the midst of all that racket while I’m trying to enjoy dinner with my wife.

            • Is Buca di Beppo any good? There is precisely one in all of New York City, and it’s in Times Square, which doesn’t bode well. Times Square is the motherlode of chain restaurants, but they’re supersized and flashier. For the visitor who wants a “New York experience” while eating something familiar because they’ve been to the one on State Route 418 two towns over from their residence.

    • Not being a drinker anymore I haven’t had occasion to test things like this so Cousin Matt might have a better opinion, but I wouldn’t try this with a sweet vermouth.  Failing all else, I’d go with a merlot or a chianti.

    • Vermouth is actually a fortified wine! I think I’d use dry vermouth, but the wine additive cooks off, so it’s only there for the flavor, so it’s possible a sweet vermouth would be preferable. I would try it. Do you cook for yourself? Give it a shot (of sweet vermouth) and see how it goes, and if we’re ever allowed to have people over again make your recipe your own!
      That’s really the part of The Joy of Cooking. You don’t want to experiment on unsuspecting dinner guests but if you use yourself and/or a household member as a test subject it can’t hurt, as long as you have a firm idea about things like meat temps and how to handle seafood, & etc.

      You can’t imagine the stuff I’ve put in front of The Other Half. I have at least a 98% rate, but in the early days of our gasp-inducingly long relationship I tried to improvise. He had the local (excellent) pizza place on speed dial. 

      This is why I say to all of you, be not afraid! Whenever I come across something I’ve never made before I always think, “People were doing this centuries ago using whatever heat sources and implements they had at hand. This is just a modern take.”

      • I didn’t realize vermouth was considered a fortified wine, thanks. I have both dry and sweet, I was thinking the sweet because you mentioned using port which can be pretty sweet. But I can try both. Not at the same time of course.

        • It is but port is a little “meatier”. I’m not fluent in fortified wine speak, but do you know what I mean? I figured dry vermouth would cook off a little more cleanly, and I kind of have an aversion to sweet vermouth in general, but since I’ve never used either I have no idea what I’m talking about. Sweet vermouth might be the way to go. 

  3. I concur with your friend about asparagus being a spring vegetable. I mean I’ll eat it in other seasons, but literally fresh from the ground in spring it’s amazing. I’ll chop it into small pieces and add it raw to salads. 

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