A few weeks ago I explained Knowledge Knights to you all. Well the same thing always happens to me at Knowledge Knight: while everyone is presenting, and asking questions, I think of 15 other things I want to learn about. This past Knowledge Knight, after sipping on a glass of wine, I thought to myself I wonder what the science is behind all of the different flavors that wine can be? Not just oak barrel aged versus stainless-steel aged, but like, the actual science.
As I was making this Chicken Marsala the question popped back into my head. More specifically, what makes a Marsala a Marsala? Wikipedia, come at me.
Well, first thing's first: Marsala has Denominazione di Origine Controllata which means that in order for wine to be called a Marsala it must be produced in the city of Marsala, Italy. This is the same as how Champagne must be produced in the Champagne region in order to be sold as Champagne.
Traditional Marsala wine is aged in wooden casks. I don't always taste the woody flavor this lends wine, but when you compare two wines--a wood aged versus a steel cask aged wine- you can usually tell the difference. Further more, the casks that are used to age Marsala are refilled with newer wine on an on-going basis, which means that every bottle ends up with a blend of different aged wines inside of it. This process is appropriately called perpetuum in Italy, and Solera in other parts of the world.
The wine I used for this Chicken Marsala was classified as fine which means it aged for at least one year. You can get Marsala that has been aged much longer, Marsala that is bright red ("Rubino" is made from red grapes), golden ("Oro"), or amber "Ambra." They also vary from secco (dry) to sweet.
In the states we typically associate Marsala wine with this chicken dish, which is actually Italian-American, not traditional Italian fare. Some people add cream to the sauce to give a rich consistency, while others play with different herbs, like thyme or sage. Marsala wine, however, was originally used more widely as an aperitif. It is often fortified with spirits and sweetened with sugar.
Ok, ok, but what about the science?! This required a lot more digging, and honestly with out buying research papers I had a hard time finding much at all. Quests like this usually end in me looking for more answers. I think I am going to buy a book on the science of wine just out of curiosity-- any recommendations?
What I did find: Marsala, like Sherry, has a high portion of ash, but this ash is not as high in sulfates as it is in Sherry. (Hold up: there's ash in wine? This was news to me too! It is what is leftover after a fair amount of evaporation and incineration is complete. It's also found in the soils of regions like Tuscany). Also, Marsala is consider a really low-acid wine, which may be why people enjoy drinking it as an aperitif (added sugar aside).
Serves: 4 | Total Time:
- 6 chicken cutlets (about 1 pound)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 shallot, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup crimini mushrooms, sliced
- Optional: 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 cup marsala wine
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon corn starch or arrowroot starch
- 1 tablespoons cold water
- Salt & Pepper
- For serving: Parsley and parmesan
- Heat coconut oil in a skillet or wok over medium heat until it glistens. Add chicken to skillet, and brown on each side.
- Once cooked through, move chicken to a plate and set aside. Place diced shallot, minced garlic, and sliced mushrooms in pan and sauté until the shallots are translucent. If you plan on adding tomatoes, do so at this time.
- Pour the wine and broth into the pan, and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spatula. Bring to a simmer. Whisk the corn starch or arrowroot starch into the cold water and pour into pan, stirring until combined. Season generously with salt & pepper. Add chicken back to the pan. Continue to simmer the sauce until it begins to thicken. Remove from heat.
- Sprinkle with a few parsley leaves and some shredded parmesan, and serve hot. We served with a side salad and garlic-herb mash potatoes.