Inspiration / Food & Wine

Chicken Saltimbocca-Marsala with Lemon


Steve Farrow Steve Farrow / 29 May 2020

Store-Cupboard Staples with Steve Farrow, our resident Wine Without Fuss food and wine man

This week's recipe is one I make at home very regularly and which never fails us – it is simplicity itself. The recipe is a bit of a hybrid, as the rather confused name suggests, and one that will have Italian cooks spluttering into their Barolo but knowing how much we enjoy it at home I will make no apologies for that.

Saltimbocca translates from the Italian, rather wonderfully, as 'jump in the mouth' and is a superb dish. Thin slices of veal are wrapped in Parma ham or other prosciutto crudo and sage leaves, fried quickly before the pan is deglazed with red wine and a swirl of butter until reduced to syrupy loveliness. Veal marsala employs the same thin escalopes of veal sauced with Marsala wine used to deglaze the pan after cooking the veal, with sautéed mushrooms added just before serving.

So, you might ask – why would I mess with either? The truth of the matter is that my version is the result of using up stuff that was to hand when we opened the fridge one night, with results that pleased us so much that it's become a bit of a stand-by. You can use veal if you can get it, and it is much easier to get ethically farmed veal nowadays. However, more commonly I use chicken or pork because as we often have them in our fridge or freezer. Even lean, tender beef steak could be used if you like. Just make sure that whatever meat you choose that it's beaten out nice and thinly before beginning.

Chicken Saltimbocca-Marsala with Lemon


Serves 2 very generously or 4 people with sensible appetites!

  • 2 chicken breasts (or 1 small tenderloin of pork sliced into portions, or 2 veal escalopes)
  • 4 thin slices Parma ham or other similarly air-cured ham
  • 10 sage leaves (you may need less depending on the size of the fillets or you can use rosemary leaves instead)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 50g butter, cubed (salted or unsalted)
  • Juice of ½ lemon (check during cooking and use more or less if you like)
  • 100 mls Marsala, Madeira or Sherry (you can use dry versions of these, but I find that the medium and sweeter fortifieds work better – very sweet oloroso and Pedro Ximinez wouldn't work here).
  • 100 mls chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper


Slice the chicken breasts horizontally across their width as evenly as you can. Lay them between two sheets of cling film and, using a rolling pin or something else with a little bit of weight, gently beat them so you end up with something broader and flatter and no more than ½ centimetre thick. You don't have to be precise about the thickness but don't hammer them too hard as the meat will break up.

Peel off the cling film and lay the beaten fillets out flat. Lay sage leaves so that they are evenly spread over the meat.

Top each fillet with a piece of the ham, covering the sage leaves, and tack the ham in place with cocktail sticks at each end, so that the ham is held on the fillet. If you don't have cocktail sticks just wrap the ham around the fillets, adjusting the sage to fit, and take care when moving and cooking them.

Add the olive oil to a large frying pan over a moderate heat. Once hot, lay the fillets in the pan ham side down. You can do this in two batches if the pan demands it. Fry the fillets like this for five minutes or so, until the ham has browned and lightly crisped, then flip them over and cook for another four minutes. Remove the fillets and put them aside and keep them warm.

Add the Marsala, Madeira or Sherry and the stock, turn up the heat and bubble until the sauce is reduced to a spoon-coating consistency, almost but not quite syrupy. Pour in the lemon juice a bit at a time and taste as you go, and continue to bubble for a minute or two.

Add the butter cube by cube, whisking or swirling the pan as you go. This will thicken the sauce and give it some gloss.

Reduce the heat to low and add the fillets and any resting juices to the pan and gently simmer for four minutes to heat the chicken through. At this point taste and season the sauce to your taste (remembering salty ham and salted butter will add to this, so do taste first).

Carefully remove the cocktail sticks and serve on warm plates with the sauce spooned over, alongside some sautéed potatoes and a green vegetable. Buttered spinach or tenderstem or purple sprouting broccoli are very good, but a sharply dressed green salad can be just the thing too.


This is a full-flavoured but balanced dish so I generally look to ripe, fruit-filled but not overtly heavy reds and fragrant, lively but fruity whites. Being an Italian recipe, apt matches could be Baccolo Appassimento Rosso Veneto 2018 for its smooth, easy nature, and the Cirò Rosso Gaglioppo, Santa Venere 2017 with its bright fruit from the warm south. Beyond Italy you might try the wonderfully harmonious Xinomavro Jeunes Vignes, Thymiopoulos 2018 from Greece, the ever pleasing berry fruit of Esporão Monte Velho Tinto, Alentejano 2019 of Portugal or the 'punching well above its weight' Individo Feteasca, Château Vartely 2017 from little known Moldova, all of which should work well. For whites consider the perfumed and mouthwatering Puglia Bianco, A Mano 2019, the off-dry and peachy Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2019 or the citrusy zing and stone fruit of Undurraga Finca Las Lomas Leyda Sauvignon Gris 2019. Finally, a good full-flavoured rosé like Basilicata Rosato Le Ralle, Alovini 2019 will be a fine meeting point between red and white.

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