Delicious chicken florentine served with spinach and parmesan cream sauce for the ultimate one-pan meal. It’s a quick and easy Italian-inspired dinner where the meat is lightly coated and then pan-fried until golden brown.
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If you’re looking to take your taste buds on a trip to Italy, try my chicken florentine recipe! Tender pieces of meat sear until a golden crust forms. Using the same pan, you can create a flavorful and luxurious sauce. White wine adds a bright oaky taste to complement the rich cream. Plus, the cook enjoys a glass of vino as the sauce simmers.
It’s called florentine because of its creamy spinach sauce with parmesan cheese. The leaves quickly wilt down, adding a pop of green to the dish. I love to serve this dish with pasta, crispy potatoes, roasted zucchini, or a salad.
Fresh spinach delivers super tender leaves that wilt in just a minute in the hot sauce. I recommend baby spinach, the flavor is mild, and the size of the leaves is easy to chew. No chopping is required! I use four cups, which seems like a lot in volume. It’s over 90% water, so the leaves quickly compact into the sauce.
If you have a pack of frozen spinach in the freezer, you can substitute it for fresh. You’ll need about 4 ounces or ½ cup. Defrost it in the microwave until the leaves just lose their ice crystals. Squeeze the excess water, so it doesn’t add a muddy taste and green color to the cream sauce. Stir it in with the heat turned off. It will warm up quickly.
I use boneless skinless chicken breasts for a lean protein option that cooks fast. Choose more significant pieces, about 12 ounces in size. Alternatively, you can use four smaller 8 to 6 ounces breasts. Grocery stores also sell them thinly sliced to take out a prep step. If you prefer dark meat, use thighs, but don’t slice or pound them down.
Cut and flatten the meat
Slice the chicken breasts in half lengthwise to make two thinner cutlets. You will have four total. Place each piece in a plastic bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap. Flatten them with a meat mallet to ½-inch thick for even cooking. The additional pounding helps to break down the proteins and tenderizes the poultry even more. If the pieces are wide after pounding, cook them in two batches.
Coating the chicken
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. To create a flavorful crust on the surface, lightly dredge them in seasoned flour. The protein in the all-purpose flour will turn golden brown, and the extra texture helps the sauce stick. I also do this for chicken marsala and chicken piccata. You can skip this step if you want a gluten-free or keto meal.
Other coatings like cornstarch, almond flour, coconut flour, or gluten-free flour mixes can be used if you want an extra layer. Make sure to shake off the excess so the particles don’t burn in the oil. If you want to take this dish to the next level, try breading the meat to make chicken Milanese for extra crunch.
The pan-frying technique
The high protein, low-in-fat chicken breasts will cook quickly on the stovetop. I like to use a 12-inch stainless steel pan, nonstick pan, or wide dutch oven for cooking the meat. Pan-fry the coated pieces in olive oil over medium heat. Don’t move them. Let the crust develop until it turns golden in color and easily lifts off the pan.
The process takes about 4 to 6 minutes per side. Target an internal temperature of 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). You’ll notice some browned bits on the bottom of the pan. That is a flavorful fond developed from the protein, fat, and juices. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate and keep warm. You’ll be using the same pan to make the florentine sauce.
Make the sauce
To take advantage of all the flavor left in the pan to fry the chicken, make the florentine sauce in the same skillet. Minced garlic and shallots are sauteed in a little butter to enhance the aromas. The browned bits will be stuck to the bottom. Use dry white wine like pinot grigio to deglaze the pan. The water in the wine will help dissolve the fond, while scraping with a spoon will lift it off the bottom, so it doesn’t burn.
Most of the alcohol will evaporate. You want the pan to dry with just a little moisture left. Heavy whipping cream and chicken stock are added and simmered until it’s thick enough to coat the back of the spoon lightly. The high percentage of milk fat in the cream, no less than 36%, creates a rich enough texture that you don’t need to add additional flour or cornstarch for thickening.
Add the spinach
Add the fresh spinach leaves straight to the hot cream sauce. Give it a good stir to wilt the high volume of leaves down. The leaves will condense and incorporate into the sauce in just about a minute.
Other vegetables can be added, like mushrooms, sliced zucchini, and fresh or sundried tomatoes. If they are high in moisture content, pre-cook them or add them before the spinach and let the sauce simmer a little longer to reduce it.
Add the cheese
To melt the grated parmesan cheese gently, turn off the heat and stir it in to add a nice punch of saltiness to the sauce. I also add a small amount of nutmeg for subtle sweet, baked notes. It adds a nice dimension to the neutral-tasting cream. Since the dairy is heavy, I add lemon zest and just a few teaspoons of lemon juice.
The citric acid in the juice brightens up the sauce, balancing the rich taste. Don’t worry. It won’t have a strong lemon flavor. You can skip the citrus, but trust me, it brings harmony to the dish.
Warm the chicken
Add the chicken pieces back to the pan to warm them up without drying them out. You can cover until you’re ready to serve, but usually, my family is prepared to eat after smelling the enticing aromas! Garnish the chicken with chopped parsley or other herbs like basil or oregano.
Serve this with
Lean chicken breasts that have been flattened and lightly coated with seasoned flour to create a crust. The chicken is pan-seared until golden brown. A pan sauce is made from the fond and deglazed with white wine. Then it’s simmered with shallots, garlic, heavy cream, and chicken stock until thickened. It’s mixed with parmesan cheese and spinach.
The florentine-style sauce is inspired by cuisine from Florence, Italy. The cream is used as the base, mixed with parmesan cheese, then combined with spinach. Another option is to use a flour, roux-based sauce with milk (known as Mornay in French cooking). Fresh spinach is added to the sauce.
Yes, you can defrost 4 ounces of frozen chopped spinach for the recipe. It should yield about ½ cup of spinach. Make sure to squeeze out the excess water from the ice and then stir it into the cream sauce.
Why is a wine often used to deglaze the pan?
Deglazing the bottom of the pan dissolves the flavorful fond from cooking proteins like chicken to incorporate into a pan sauce. It also prevents the browned bits from burning. A liquid like wine or stock is used for extra flavor to infuse into the sauce. Wine has a lower boiling point, around 173.1°F (78.37°C), than water, 212ºF (100ºC). It reduces slightly faster while adding fruity acids and fermented flavors. To avoid an overly boozy taste, reduce until about two tablespoons remain.
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- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, 2 pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more for seasoning
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, more for seasoning
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup unsalted chicken stock, or broth
- 4 cups baby spinach, packed
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
- Flatten the Chicken – Thoroughly dry the chicken breasts with a paper towel. Cut each piece horizontally lengthwise to make two thinner cutlets, four total. Place one of the pieces between two plastic sheets or a large plastic bag and flatten to an even ½-inch thickness. Repeat with remaining pieces.
- Coat the Surface – In a medium bowl, combine flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Lightly season each side of the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Dredge the pieces in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Pan-fry the Chicken – Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Once hot, carefully add the chicken to the pan. Cook until both sides are golden brown, about 4 to 6 minutes per side. The internal temperature should reach 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). Transfer to a clean plate, loosely tent with foil to keep warm.
- Make the Sauce – Using the same pan to cook the chicken, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the shallots and garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, scraping the pan to remove any browned bits. Cook until almost evaporated, with a few tablespoons of wine remaining, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Reduce the Sauce – Stir in the heavy cream and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Frequently scrape the pan's sides and bottom to ensure the cream does not curdle. Reduce the sauce until it starts thickening and lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Cook the Spinach – Stir in the spinach, and cook until wilted, about 1 minute.
- Finish the Sauce – Turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, and nutmeg—season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Warm the Chicken – Add the pieces back to the pan, coating with the sauce to reheat.
- Plate & Serve – Garnish with some chopped parsley and serve hot.
- Storing: Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Cover and microwave on the high setting in 15 to 30-second increments until hot.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute gluten-free flour, cornstarch, or skip the coating step.
- Make it Keto: Coat chicken with almond or coconut flour, or skip the coating.
- Using Frozen Spinach: Defrost 4 ounces of frozen chopped spinach, about 1/2 cup, and drain well.
- Substituting for Wine: Use ½ cup of chicken stock, broth, or water instead of the wine to glaze the pan. You can add 1 teaspoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar to add some acidity to the liquid.
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