Chicken Piccata with Lemon Caper Sauce

4.85 from 178 votes
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Chicken piccata is a quick and easy weeknight meal. Lightly breading and pan-frying create a beautiful golden-brown crust that allows the tangy lemon sauce to cling onto.

Chicken Piccata with lemon caper sauce cooking in a pan.

Chicken piccata is a classic Italian dish, and while the name might sound fancy, it’s pretty simple to prepare. This recipe uses lean poultry meat with a simple dredging technique and skillet cooking. But the sauce is so good that if you want to switch it up, veal or fish can be substituted.

I use everyday pantry staples and fresh ingredients to create a rustic and satisfying meal. The contrast of lightly breaded and pan-fried cutlets cradled in a lemon caper reduction sauce is a beautiful combination. You’ll want to serve this with pasta or rice to soak up all the luscious flavors.

Lightly breaded chicken cutlets frying in a pan.

What is chicken piccata?

Piccata is an Italian preparation for dredging thin protein pieces like chicken, veal, or fish in flour before cooking. You dip chicken breasts in a flour mixture for this recipe, then pan-fry in olive oil until golden brown. Simmer in a tangy piccata sauce made of lemon juice, chicken broth, and capers to finish. You can add white wine to provide depth to the sauce if you like.

Flatten the chicken for even cooking

Chicken breasts are thicker on one end and taper down on the other side, which can cause overcooked and/or raw sections. To prevent this from happening, you want to make the pieces thinner.

You can either cut each breast in half lengthwise or use a meat tenderizer, mallet, wine bottle, or rolling pin to pound the meat to an even thickness. If flattening, aim for ½-inch thick pieces, then cut each piece into two portions.

Golden brown chicken cutlets cooking in a pan with lemon caper sauce.

What coating do you use for chicken piccata?

Traditionally, chicken piccata has a light coating of flour on the surface that forms a subtle golden crust when cooked in a little olive oil. Flour has a neutral taste, so I add more seasonings to the mixture for a savory coating. Each cutlet is dredged in flour before hitting the hot pan. Use the standard breading procedure if you want a thicker and crunchier exterior.

Lemon caper sauce

The piccata sauce is a reduction of fresh lemon juice and zest, chicken broth, and capers. It simmers until concentrated, and the flavorful brown bits from frying the chicken dissolve. The trick to thickening the sauce and creating a silky texture is to whisk in cold butter at the very end to create an emulsion. Incorporate the butter over low heat to prevent the sauce from breaking.

What are capers?

Capers are pickled flower buds from a shrub-like bush called Capparis spinosa. These tiny spheres are sun-dried and brined or salted and, when added to a dish, provide an intense, spicy, salty, and tangy flavor. It’s an acquired taste, but they make this dish unique and exciting. I like to add a generous amount, ¼ cup, to pack massive flavor into the sauce.

Butter being whisked in a pan with lemon caper sauce.

What is a substitute for capers?

If capers aren’t available or not your thing, olives are the next best choice. They are both brined and provide a similar salty, piquant taste. Use green olives, then thinly slice or chop them into smaller pieces. Kalamata would work as well for this dish.

Can you make this in advance and reheat?

It’s best to enjoy chicken on the same day for the best taste. It’s possible to reheat. However, the flour coating will be slightly soggy, and the sauce may not hold an emulsion. If reheating, add chicken to a pan with the sauce and reheat over medium heat until warmed through. Whisk the sauce before pouring it on top of the meat.

What to serve with chicken piccata

I like to serve this with angel hair pasta, rice, or crispy roasted potatoes to complete the dish. The pasta helps to soak up all those luscious flavors. For vegetables, try broccoli or sauteed green beans are healthy pairings.

More Italian recipes

Chicken Piccata in a pan with lemon wedges and capers.

How to prevent the chicken from drying out when pan-frying

The key to evenly cooking chicken, especially when pan-frying is to pound out the pieces or cut them in half to the same thickness. About a ½-inch is good, you don’t want to go paper-thin. If you have an instant-read digital thermometer, check the doneness temperature, and stop cooking when the internal temperature reaches 160°F (71ºC).

Chicken Piccata

Chicken piccata with lemon caper sauce is an easy weeknight meal. Lightly breading and pan-frying chicken breasts creates a beautiful golden brown crust.
4.85 from 178 votes
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • lemon zest, from one lemon
  • cup lemon juice
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup capers, drained and rinsed
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Instructions 

  • Flatten the Chicken – To ensure even cooking, cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise to create 4 total portions. Season both sides of chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
  • Dredge the Chicken – In a shallow bowl combine flour, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Dredge chicken breasts in the flour mixture shaking off excess, transfer to a plate.
  • Make the Sauce – In a medium bowl combine lemon zest, lemon juice, chicken broth, and capers. Set aside.
  • Fry the Chicken – Heat a large 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot and begins to shimmer, carefully add chicken to the pan. Cook until lightly browned and the thickest part of the meat reaches 160°F (61ºC), about 3 minutes per side. Remove and transfer to a plate.
  • Reduce the Sauce – Add lemon caper sauce and thyme sprigs to the same pan used to cook the chicken. Bring liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Scrape down the brown bits from the pan and whisk until dissolved into the liquid. Reduce by ⅓, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Simmer – Return chicken to the pan and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, flipping halfway through. Transfer chicken to a serving dish. Remove and discard the thyme.
  • Thicken the Sauce – Over low heat, vigorously whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter into the sauce. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as desired. Add the chicken back and pour the sauce over top. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Add wine to the sauce: (Optional) Add ¼ cup of dry white wine to the sauce. Allow the sauce to simmer for an additional 1 minute before adding back the chicken to warm.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 319kcal (16%)Carbohydrates 4g (1%)Protein 24g (48%)Fat 22g (34%)Saturated Fat 6g (30%)Cholesterol 87mg (29%)Sodium 833mg (35%)Potassium 464mg (13%)Vitamin A 250IU (5%)Vitamin C 12.5mg (15%)Calcium 10mg (1%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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74 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Wendy K Vandenberg says

    This is my favorite chicken picatta recipe!

    I have a question–
    I’m making some dishes to freeze and reheat later for my daughter-in-law, as she is due to have my first grandson very soon. Would this recipe work to cook and then freeze?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you so much! Congratulations! I know things can get a bit crazy when baby arrives. I think that something like a soup, stew, meatballs, or casserole would be better for reheating. Since there is a light breading and a butter sauce, it won’t taste as good reheated from frozen.

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