Queenie Cooks: Lemon Chicken Piccata

By Terry Harris

If you’ve ever wished for a recipe for an entrée that looks, sounds, and tastes like you spent hours over the stove, but only takes 16 minutes from start to finish, this is your lucky day!  The discovery of this recipe certainly made my day, and with just a few adjustments it has become one of my top five favorite entrée recipes of all time.

I’ve always loved lemon, and I’m definitely a fan of capers – both of which are necessities for this version of the classic Italian dish.  And I’m a big fan of butter as well, but one twist for this recipe is that you substitute EVOO for a little more than half of the butter.  You still get all the flavor; you just get to feel slightly virtuous as you eat it!

It also contains only a few readily-available ingredients: Quality extra virgin olive oil, butter, white wine (or chicken broth), and tangy, salty, aromatic capers.  And since the sauce ingredients are stirred into the pan in which you seared the chicken, the little brown bits from where you cooked the chicken greatly add to the depth of flavor.

There are several things you can do to make sure that this dish is extra special.  First, butterfly the chicken breasts by the simple directions in the recipe for even and quick cooking! Before dredging in the flour, pat the pieces dry with a paper towel and then season with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides of each piece.   Using your flour of choice--all-purpose, whole wheat (for Mediterranean diet) or gluten-free—just dip chicken pieces in the flour until evenly coated and shake off any extra flour for just a light coating of flour.

A large cast iron skillet is recommended if you have one, but whatever pan you use, heat your olive oil over medium/medium-high heat until it looks like it is shimmering, but don’t heat it to smoking or you’ll burn your chicken. You only want a golden-brown color. Also, work in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan, placing the first pieces in a 200 degree oven to keep it warm until all pieces are done.

It’s important to make the sauce in the same pan you used to cook the chicken for the extra flavor. Also, whether you use the wine or the broth, either will be delicious! 

My last tip is to be sure you baste the chicken pieces with that flavorful sauce during that last four or five minutes after you add the chicken back to simmer in the sauce. Then all that’s left is to serve the chicken with rice or mashed potatoes or pasta and your favorite green vegetable or salad and you have a perfect meal that looks hard to make, but really could hardly be simpler!  You can also garnish with a bit of fresh parsley or lemon zest. And if you love the sauce like I do, make a little extra and toss it with your favorite pasta or rice. 

Oh! One more tip: when your family or guests begin the raving over the flavor of your “fancy dish” that “must have taken hours” to prepare, just smile modestly.  I’ll never tell.  Enjoy! 

Lemon Chicken Piccata

PREP TIME  10 mins       COOK TIME   6 mins     SERVINGS   4 people or more

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast halves, butterflied into thinner cutlets, then cut in half cross-wise

Kosher salt and black pepper

½ cup plain flour of your choice

4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

⅓ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

½ cup chicken broth or white wine

3 to 4 tablespoon capers rinsed and drained

Fresh chopped parsley for garnish

Heat the oven to 200 degrees  (to keep chicken warm as you work in batches).

Pat chicken breast pieces dry and season with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides. Lightly coat chicken on both sides with flour, shaking off excess.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high to shimmering but not smoking. Cook chicken on 1 side for about 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 3 minutes.  (Do not crowd pan). Place cooked chicken pieces in an oven-save dish in warm oven while you finish.

When all chicken pieces are done, in the same skillet, over medium heat, add a little more extra virgin olive oil and the butter. When melted, stir in lemon juice, broth (or wine) and capers. Bring sauce to a boil, scrapping off any browned bits from cooking the chicken earlier.

Place cooked chicken in skillet with sauce, lower heat, and let simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, basting the top of the chicken with the sauce.  Serve hot.

NOTES: Because chicken breasts can be thick and uneven, split them in half horizontally, creating thinner cutlets by placing hand on top of the chicken, and, with a sharp knife, carefully slice horizontally. May then cut these pieces in halves cross-wise, ending up with 8 smaller pieces if you started with 2 large breast halves. Leftovers can be stored in a tight-lid container in refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.