Chicken Scallopini is an Italian restaurant classic, and if ever you've been treated to the dish, you'll likely find yourself ordering it again and again...and again. And, who could blame you? Thinly sliced, golden chicken cutlets drenched in a buttery lemon sauce with capers is essentially the definition of irresistible.
But, did you know this is a restaurant treat you can easily make in your own kitchen? Today, in addition to a fail-proof recipe, we're taking the intimidation factor out of slicing the chicken breasts, as well as pounding them out to even thickness.
We'll start by covering the basics (like what "scallopini" actually means and what's in that lemony sauce, anyway?) and end with what to serve with your Chicken Scallopini, including wine pairings.
CHICKEN SCALLOPINI VS. CHICKEN PICCATA
Chicken Scallopini is a classic dish featuring flour-dusted, thinly-sliced chicken breasts pounded out very thin, pan-seared until golden, and draped with a lemony sauce speckled with capers. Have you ever noticed Chicken Piccata conjures the exact same image? Rightfully so -- these days, the names of these dishes are almost interchangeable.
Scallopini can be used to refer to the dish as a whole, but it is also a French term that can be used to indicate the thickness of a cut of meat. This term can be applied to more than just chicken, for example, Veal Scallopini features thinly sliced cuts of veal.
So Chicken Scallopini can (literally) be translated to thinly sliced cuts of chicken, usually between an ⅛ of an inch to a ¼ inch in thickness. You can "scallopini" chicken breast halves yourself by using a steady hand and a very sharp knife, or purchase chicken cutlets from the grocery store if available, and pound them out to make them even thinner using a kitchen mallet or a rolling pin.
The word "Piccata" is actually indicative of the sauce you often see draping over the sides of Chicken Scallopini. Piccata Sauce is a thin, vibrant sauce with a pronounced lemon flavor, speckled with briny capers. In addition to chicken, Piccata Sauce is also wonderful over fish and veal.
Chicken Scallopini comes down to three main components: Chicken, breading, and sauce.
CHICKEN BREASTS OR CHICKEN CUTLETS?
If you are comfortable and equipped with a good sharp chef's knife and have pretty decent butchering skills, you can get by with purchasing chicken breast halves rather than cutlets. However, if this is not the case (or you just want to save a little time in the kitchen) use chicken cutlets for this recipe instead of breasts.
This breading ensures a flavorful and crispy crust. It is a simple combination of herbed breadcrumbs and all-purpose flour, along with a generous pinch of black pepper.
WHAT'S IN PICCATA SAUCE?
Piccata Sauce is a gorgeous lemon caper white wine sauce that's rich and light all at the same time. It's also where the ingredient list starts to grow a bit. A perfect combination of light and savory, sharp and buttery.
- White Wine
- Chicken Broth
- Lemon Juice
HOW TO MAKE CHICKEN SCALLOPINI
- Mix together chicken dredge ingredients.
- Half chicken breasts (if not using cutlets).
- Pound out chicken to ¼" in thickness and dredge.
- Sear chicken in skillet and set aside.
HOW TO SLICE CHICKEN BREASTS FOR SCALLOPINI
If you are using chicken breasts rather than cutlets, you'll need to split them in half. This will require a sharp chef's knife and a set of intermediate kitchen skills. To split the chicken breasts, place the chicken on a steady work surface and the palm of your hand flat on the top of the chicken to hold it in place. Then, starting at the thick end, very carefully cut the chicken breast in half horizontally.
HOW TO POUND OUT THE CHICKEN
There are a number of different routes you can take to pound out the chicken breasts. I've found the easiest (and least messy) is to place the chicken in a zip-top bag and remove all of the air. Begin pounding out the chicken on the thickest end using a meat mallet or rolling pin, until it is of even thickness -- about a ¼" or so. If you do not have a ziptop bag, place the chicken between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper.
The chicken is then breaded, seared over medium-high heat and should be ready in a matter of mere minutes on the stovetop. The thickness of your chicken matters, because if it is too thick, the crust will likely burn before the interior of the chicken is properly cooked.
SEARING THE CHICKEN
Canola or avocado oil are both good choices for searing breaded chicken as they have low smoke points. Be sure to allow the oil to come to temperature before adding the chicken to ensure a crispy golden crust on both sides.
When adding the chicken to the pan, take care not to add too many at a time -- there should be space in between each cutlet. When pan-searing, you never want to over-crowd the pan so cook it in batches. if necessary. The chicken will be perfectly golden on the first side within about 2 minutes and should take no more than 1-1 ½ minute to crisp up on the other side. Try not to jostle or move the chicken about while on the pan.
CHECKING FOR DONENESS
Again, the thicker the chicken cutlets, the longer they will take to cook through. If you're unsure about the doneness of your chicken, taking the internal temperature is the most accurate way to go (165°). However, there are also physical signs to look for: The chicken should feel somewhat firm when pressure is applied, the meat will be white and the juices from the chicken should run clear, not pink or red.
HOW TO MAKE PICATTA SAUCE
As mentioned earlier, the sauce for Chicken Scallopini is essentially a Piccata sauce which is lemony, bright, and completely full of flavor.
- Sauté shallot and garlic, and sprinkle with flour.
- Add wine, broth, lemon juice and simmer.
- Stir in cream and capers.
- Serve over seared chicken.
The sauce begins with a quick sauté of shallots and garlic in butter on the stovetop. To thicken the sauce a bit, flour is sprinkled over the garlic and shallots and stirred.
The body of the sauce is made up of white wine, unsalted chicken broth, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The wine, broth, and lemon juice are stirred in and brought to a simmer to thicken up a bit. Once the sauce is ready, a little cream goes for richness and capers finish off the sauce.
You can either add the chicken directly to the Piccata Sauce in the pan or you can drizzle the sauce right over the top.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH CHICKEN SCALLOPINI?
Chicken Scallopini is absolutely divine over pasta, like spaghetti or linguini, but you can also serve it over mashed potatoes or creamy polenta. If you're looking for vegetables that will pair nicely, a side of green bean almondine or steamed broccoli. And, of course, we can't forget the homemade garlic bread!
As far as wine goes, you'll want a crisp white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. If you're more of a red wine drinker, go with a red on the lighter side of the spectrum, like a Pinot Noir.
This is a dinnertime dish the whole family will adore. In fact, my husband is always in an especially good mood on the nights he knows I'll be serving up this Italian classic. And, truth be told -- I'm right there with him. There's a whole lot to love when it comes to perfectly seared, crusted chicken drenched in a lemony Piccata sauce and served over pasta. Please, enjoy!
5 MORE ITALIAN DINNERS YOU'LL LOVE
- Chicken Parmesan features chicken with a crispy crust made of panko bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese and topped with marinara and fresh Mozzarella.
- Easy Spaghetti and Meatballs is loaded with homemade meatballs baked in the oven, topped off with a simple marinara sauce recipe.
- Shrimp and Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Capers is a delicious shrimp and pasta recipe featuring angel hair pasta, fresh tomatoes, capers, and shrimp cooked in a simple white wine butter sauce.
- Baked Spaghetti Casserole is the easiest (not to mention the neatest) way to serve spaghetti to the table! It’s made up of spaghetti noodles coated in parmesan and butter, an easy marinara meat sauce, savory cottage cheese, and a topping of stretchy mozzarella.
Perfectly cooked, golden-brown Chicken Scallopini topped with a quick and easy lemony Piccata sauce made with butter, white wine butter, and capers.
- ½ cup garlic and herb-flavored breadcrumbs
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts halves (or 4 chicken cutlets)
- ⅓ cup canola or avocado oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ½ cup white wine
- ¼ cup unsalted chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and dried
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
In a shallow dish, stir together seasoned breadcrumbs, flour, and pepper. Set aside.
Place each chicken breast half on a steady work surface. With one hand resting on top of the chicken, very carefully use a sharp chef's knife to cut the breast in half. Repeat with the other chicken breast. Disregard if using cutlets.
Place chicken pieces in a large zip-top bag (or in between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound out until it is of uniform thickness of no more than a ¼" thick. Trim up the cutlets if necessary and disregard of scraps.
Dredge each piece of chicken in the breadcrumb mixture and set aside while the oil comes to temperature.
Add oil to a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and allow to come to temperature. Add the cutlets to the pan (taking care not to overcrowd it and cooking in batches if necessary) and cook for 2-3 minutes (or until golden). Turn each cutlet and cook for 1-1 ½ minute more. Set aside on a wire rack.
Place a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and add butter. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, just until softened. Do not allow to burn. Sprinkle in the flour and stir.
Slowly add in the wine, followed by the chicken broth and lemon juice and increase the heat to meet a simmer. Simmer for about 4-6 minutes until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the cream, capers, salt, and pepper and remove from the heat. Serve over chicken and enjoy!
Note: The thicker the chicken cutlets, the longer they will take to cook through. The internal temperature of properly cooked chicken is 165°. Breast meat should be white and juices will run clear.