If it’s true that opposites attract, lemon and butter are the Jack and Rose of culinary ingredients.
Not to say that chicken piccata is a giant sinking cruise ship, or that capers are like tiny round icebergs…
Let me start over.
When lemon and butter are combined, something magical happens.
The marriage of lemon and butter makes a frequent appearance in dozens of different types of cuisine.
When it comes to elegant French fare, the duo is quintessential to Julia Child’s beloved sole meuniere.
Fresh from the coastal waters, lobster tails and crab legs are often served by the bucketful, and what better companion compares than a bright squeeze of lemon and a silky tub of melted butter for dipping?
Within the garlic-scented walls of a cozy Italian bistro, tangy plates of piccata loaded with lemon-butter sauce fly out of the kitchen faster than you can say, “More ciabatta, please.”
The point is: lemon and butter are a perfect pair. And chicken piccata freakin’ rules, man.
Not to stomp on your style, for those of you who prefer your piccata made with veal or fish, but there’s something about delicately breaded, juicy chicken breasts smothered in the pungent sauce that I can’t get enough of.
My dad’s family hails from northern New Jersey – a land littered with (well, litter, but also) Italian restaurants.
I didn’t grow up there, but our visits to Springfield throughout my life have been frequent.
Part of our regular restaurant “hat trick” is a longtime Italian gem one town over called Marco Polo. You’d think the extensive menu would make it hard to nail down a dinner item, but that’s never a problem.
For me, I either crave something cheesy and covered in marinara (like eggplant rollatini, to be more exact) or something on the light and lemony end of the spectrum – the usual suspect being chicken piccata.
When I can’t decide between the dish that’s bright and refreshing or the one that will lead me straight down the path to a Cabernet-coma, my dad always steps up to the (literal) plate and partakes in split-sies.
The goal is to share, but I always find myself sneaking extra bites of the briny poultry. The piccata’s rich, buttery sauce is always just decadent enough to satisfy my salt tooth, and the vinegary pop of the capers keeps my taste buds wide awake.
When I prepare piccata in my own kitchen, I don’t stray far from tradition. Other than tossing in a few pungent cloves of garlic (not necessary, but always tasty), I stick with the traditional lemon, butter, capers, and parsley.
A good sear on the poultry is crucial to lock in the juices, and it’s a technique used in many Italian chicken dishes, from piccata to cacciatore. I finish the tender pieces in a buttery bath, dolloping spoonfuls of the luxurious, lemony sauce over the top for good measure.
I say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it’s made with lemon and butter, definitely eat it.Print
Buttery chicken meets briny capers and tart lemon in this perfect piccata. Make this Italian delicacy for tonight’s dinner.
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (or 2 whole breasts, butterflied and cut in half), pounded to 1/2 inch thick
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
- Zest of 1 large lemon
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
- Season the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper, and then dredge them in the flour. Shake off any excess.
- In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter begins to foam and sizzle, add the chicken and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Remove and set aside on a plate.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and cook until light golden brown, about 30 seconds.
- Whisking as you pour, to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom, add the white wine, chicken stock, lemon zest, lemon juice, and capers. Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Return the chicken and any juices to the pan. Simmer uncovered, occasionally spooning the sauce onto the poultry, until cooked through and the sauce is reduced by half, about 3-5 minutes.
- Divide the chicken among 4 plates, and then vigorously whisk the remaining butter into the pan sauce. Once the butter has melted and the sauce has thickened, whisk in 1 tablespoon of the parsley.
- Season the sauce to taste with additional salt and pepper, and then evenly pour over the plated poultry. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Chicken
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: chicken, piccata, capers, lemon
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Chop the Garlic and Parsley, and Pound and Season the Poultry
Mince the garlic (or use a garlic press) and chop the parsley. I like to do this first on a dedicated cutting board to avoid cross-contamination with the raw meat, particularly because some of the fresh herbs here will be reserved for garnishing the finished dish, and they won’t be cooked before serving.
Loosely wrap the chicken breasts in parchment paper. Using a meat tenderizer, wine bottle, rolling pin, or pestle, gently pound them flat to an even thickness of about 1/2 inch.
Season with the salt and pepper, and then dredge them in the flour. Shake off any excess.
The flour will help to create a crust on the outside of the chicken, and it will also thicken the sauce.
Step 2 – Sear the Chicken
When the butter begins to foam and sizzle, add the chicken and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the poultry to a plate.
Step 3 – Saute the Garlic and Deglaze the Pan
Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan.
Add the garlic and cook until it becomes lightly golden brown, about 30 seconds.
Zest and juice the lemon.
Step 4 – Finish Cooking and Reduce the Sauce
Bring the mixture to a boil, then return the chicken and its juices to the pan.
Simmer uncovered, occasionally spooning the sauce onto the poultry, until it’s cooked through and the sauce reduces by about half. This should only take about 3-5 minutes.
Step 5 – Whisk the Butter and Parsley into the Sauce
Divide the chicken among 4 plates, and then vigorously whisk the remaining butter into the pan sauce.
Once the butter has melted and the sauce has thickened, whisk in 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley.
Step 6 – Sauce and Garnish
Season the sauce to taste with additional salt and pepper, and then evenly pour it over each portion of poultry. Garnish with the remaining parsley.
Light, Lemony, and Bathed in Butter
If all of the above sounds like your cup of tea (or butter), you’re going to dive headfirst into this chicken piccata.
When I’m feeling fancy, I change up the aromatics in this dish to develop a slightly different flavor profile. For a bit of crunch, I toss thinly sliced fennel in with the garlic. For an additional oniony punch, sweet shallots do the trick.
Piccata sauce and pasta are BFFs, but roasted potatoes will soak in every ounce of the lemony goodness just as effectively.
Looking for more chicken-centric recipes to satisfy your craving for Italian fare? These will hit the spot:
- Easy Weeknight Marsala
- The Easiest, Tastiest Parmesan Bake
- Italian-Style Wings with Parmesan, Basil, and Garlic
When it comes to capers, just a dab‘ll do ‘ya. Where do you dot your leftover briny beads? In homemade tartar sauce? Freshly fried atop a mountain of Caesar salad? Put on your caper thinking cap and share your tips in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on April 7, 2014. Last updated on February 9, 2021. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”