This chicken piccata recipe with lemon caper sauce is a quick and easy weeknight meal. Lightly breading and pan-frying creates a beautiful golden-brown crust that allows the tangy lemon sauce to cling onto.
Chicken piccata is a classic Italian dish and while the name might sound fancy, it’s actually quite 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 wonderful combination. You’ll want to serve this with pasta or rice to soak up all of the luscious flavors.
What is chicken piccata?
Piccata is an Italian preparation of dredging thin pieces of protein like chicken, veal, or fish in flour before cooking. For this recipe, you dip chicken breasts in a flour mixture then pan-fry in olive oil until golden brown in color. To finish, simmer in a tangy piccata sauce made of lemon juice, chicken broth, and capers. If you like, you can add white wine to provide depth to the sauce.
Flatten the chicken for even cooking
Chicken breasts are thicker on one end and taper down on the other side. This 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. Aim for ½-inch thick pieces if flattening, then cut each piece into two portions.
What coating do you use for chicken piccata?
Traditionally, chicken piccata has a light coating of flour on the surface that when cooked in a little olive oil forms a subtle golden crust. Flour has a very neutral taste, so I add in more seasonings to the mixture for a savory coating. Each cutlet is dredged in flour before hitting the hot pan. If you want a thicker and crunchier exterior, use the standard breading procedure.
Lemon caper sauce
The piccata sauce is a reduction of fresh lemon juice and zest, chicken broth, and capers. It simmers until concentrated and until 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 as this will prevent the sauce from breaking.
What are capers?
Capers are pickled flower buds from a shrub-like bush called Capparis spinosa. These little spheres are sun-dried and brined or salted, and when added to a dish provide an intense, pungent, 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.
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 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 on top of the meat.
What to serve with chicken piccata
To complete the dish, I like to serve this with angel hair pasta, rice, or crispy roasted potatoes. This helps to soak up all those luscious flavors. For vegetables try, broccoli or sauteed green beans are healthy pairings.
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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).
- 1 pound (454 g) boneless skinless chicken breasts
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
- ½ cup (71 g) all-purpose flour
- lemon zest, from one lemon
- ⅓ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup (120 ml) chicken broth
- ¼ cup (45 g) capers, drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
- 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.
- 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.
- In a medium bowl combine lemon zest, lemon juice, chicken broth, and capers. Set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.