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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Design: The Kitchn
Chicken Champions

We Tested 4 Famous Chicken Marsala Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

published Mar 5, 2020
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To the uninitiated, chicken Marsala may seem like just another chicken dish. But anyone who has tried really good chicken Marsala knows it’s so much more than that. The combination of golden, pan-fried chicken, tender, savory mushrooms, and rich pan sauce is a true masterpiece — when it’s done right. The very best versions of chicken Marsala manage to bring together a handful of simple ingredients into a mouthwatering dish that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

The chicken should be pounded thin and seared to deep golden perfection, yet the center should remain juicy. The mushrooms should be browned (ideally in butter), and the rich Marsala wine sauce should strike just the right balance of savory, sweet, and tangy. The sauce should be thickened just enough to cling to the chicken and mushrooms. If it’s too thin, it will slide off; too thick, and it becomes gummy and unappealing. To finish the dish, a fresh garnish of parsley never hurts.

Though many people save chicken Marsala for dining out, it’s actually an easy dish to make at home. In fact, with the right recipe and ingredients, it will likely turn out better than many restaurant versions. The question is: is there a truly great chicken Marsala recipe out there for home cooks? I tested four recipes to find out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

How I Chose My Four Chicken Marsala Contenders

In the past, we’ve chosen the contenders for our recipe showdowns by picking the most searched-for recipes, finding the ones that seemed to have the most buzz or traffic, and choosing those with the highest ratings and the best reviews.

But sometimes the most popular isn’t always the best, so this month we decided to do things a little differently. Though we’ve still included a couple of the most popular recipes, we decided to also ask expert cooks and fanatical foodies on our staff and in the food world which recipes they love, in the hopes that we might uncover a few gems that you wouldn’t otherwise find.

I started with the internet-famous recipes. After a bit of researching, it quickly became clear that Olive Garden’s recipe is extremely beloved. It also stands out from a number of other recipes because the chicken isn’t dredged in flour, and the sauce doesn’t contain any broth. Emeril’s recipe took the second spot. Though it is popular, it only has ten reviews — but they’re all five-stars. In addition, it was got the thumbs up when we asked for recommendations. It’s also unique in that Emeril seasons the chicken with his signature Essence spice blend.

When it came time to get recommendations, I reached out to a variety of friends and colleagues. Many had trouble thinking of a particular recipe they loved, but one, who works on the Rachael Ray show, couldn’t stop raving about Curtis Stone’s recipe. Stone apparently made it for everyone when he was a guest on the show, and she’s been hooked ever since. At first glance, I was, too — his recipe looked to be a somewhat fancy-yet-easy upgrade.

To round out the four, I included a recommendation from a member of Kitchn’s Meal Planning Club on Facebook (you’re welcome to join!) for cookbook author David Lebovitz’s recipe. Lebovitz is a whiz with desserts, but he wasn’t someone that initially came to mind when I thought of chicken Marsala. That, along with his unconventional cooking method and a surprise ingredient, made me curious enough to include him.

How I Tested the Chicken Marsala

To create a level playing field, I kept as many elements as consistent as possible while testing. I used the same brands for the chicken, Marsala wine, mushrooms, and butter across all recipes, and unless otherwise specified, I used pre-sliced cremini mushrooms.

For the Marsala wine, I used Opici Vineyards Marsala (which notes that it has a touch of sweetness). I bought the wine for just under $8 at my local wine shop. Some recipes call for dry Marsala wine, some call for sweet Marsala wine, and some don’t specify. At the wine shop, I learned that all Marsala wine is sweet, and none are truly dry. Bottles labeled as dry are a little bit less sweet, but not too far off from their sweet counterparts.

Meet Our 4 Chicken Marsala Contenders

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

1. The Most Disappointing Chicken Marsala: Olive Garden’s Chicken Marsala

This recipe gets the job done, but leaves a lot to be desired. While it does have a short ingredient list and mostly easy-to-follow instructions, there are other recipes (see below!) that are just as easy to pull together and are far more delicious. The main problem was the sauce, which was as thin as soup (largely because the chicken is not dredged in flour), with a flavor that was dull. Honestly, it tasted like something was missing.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

2. The Fast and Fancy Upgrade: Curtis Stone’s Chicken Marsala

Because this recipe includes shallot, garlic, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, I was expecting big things. The aromatics did come through, adding a nice twist on an otherwise standard classic. But the sauce had a weaker flavor than I would have liked, due to the fact that there is more broth added than wine. I would make it again — it was quick and easy — with a few tweaks.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

3. The Unconventional Spin on a Classic: Emeril’s Chicken Marsala

I worried that Emeril’s Essence, his signature Creole spice blend, would be the downfall of this recipe. Instead, the hint of warm smokiness and spice was exactly what made this version so memorable and delicious. In fact, I might use a little more of it in the recipe next time!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

4. The Very Best Chicken Marsala: David Lebovitz’s Chicken Marsala

If you’re someone who doesn’t think they can make chicken Marsala at home, this recipe will change that. In the past month, I’ve now made this chicken Marsala recipe three times, and won’t think twice about making it again soon.

There are a lot of elements that come together to make this recipe so amazing, but the sauce is the real standout star. It has a big flavor but is really well balanced. There’s some sweetness from the wine, but thanks to a splash of balsamic vinegar and an extra pat of butter added at the end of cooking, the sauce is bright and punchy, yet savory and rich. The sauce is also thickened with a tiny bit of cornstarch, so it’s extra glossy and expertly coats the thin slices of chicken and mushrooms.

Lebovitz also instructs you to cook the mushrooms before the chicken (it’s traditionally the other way around), which is really smart, as it helps prevent the flour in the pan from potentially burning. If you like Chicken Marsala — or like chicken in pan sauces, and haven’t tried Marsala — I highly recommend you give this recipe a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Do you have a favorite chicken Marsala recipe? Tell us in the comments!