Chicken Piccata with Creamy Artichoke Hearts and Lemony Sauce

Piccata is an Italian style of cooking in which either veal or chicken is pounded flat into cutlets, dipped in egg whites, dredged in flour and Parmigiano cheese, and then pan fried.  Like all Italian cooking, very fresh and high quality ingredients are the secret.  We find that Parmigiano Reggiano that has been aged two to three years makes a big difference, as well as extra rich chicken bone broth, free range air chilled chicken thighs (much richer tasting than chicken breasts), and high quality virgin olive oil.  The combination of creamy young artichoke hearts and a lemony butter sauce make this meal a crowd favorite.  And if that crowd is your family and close friends, this meal will be the one they barge back into the kitchen for… to ask for seconds and thirds, and most of all, for more sauce.

I first had this meal in Tuscany in local trattorias, and in Rome, it’s usually made as veal piccata.  Either way it was always savory.  But I fell in love with this feast was when I first tasted it at Farfalla Restaurant in Los Angeles on Hillhurst Ave.  It was a revelation.  Devoured with the rosemary foccacio, it became an addiction.  I have enjoyed this knockout meal from Farfalla for the next nearly thirty years.  Farfalla is still there, producing night after night, decade after decade, soulful and memorable meals like their Chicken Piccata.  My version is a bit more dangerous, with seared lemons and tons of artichoke hearts, and far more umami flavors, the kind that I love… garlic, aged Parmigiano, bone broth and chicken thighs not breasts.  But they were the inspiration, along with the many local restaurants in both Tuscany and Umbria that have made this meal the one you anxiously await after your pasta.  Dive into this authentic creamy Italian umami explosion on a plate.

Main Ingredients

6 chicken thighs, (about 2 pounds) bone out and skin off, free range, air chilled, pounded flat into cutlets about a 1/4 inch thick

2 cans artichoke hearts (we use baby artichokes, they are creamier in texture)

4 to 5 large garlic cloves, crushed not diced

3 egg whites, beaten

1 cup white wine

1 cup rich chicken stock, already reduced from 32 ounces

1/4 cup cream

2 lemons, 1 sliced thin and 1 squeezed (we also use the zest from that squeezed lemon)

3 tablespoons capers

4 ounces butter (1 old fashioned stick, half to fry the cutlet, half for the creamy artichoke sauce)

4 tablespoons Italian extra virgin olive oil, (2 for the chicken cutlets, 2 for the artichokes and lemon slices)

1/4 cup Italian parsley, packed tightly

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

Dusting Powder

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

3/4 cup rice flour or all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Prep Work

Drain both cans of artichokes, cut each heart into quarters.  Divide in half and set aside on paper towels to dry a little bit.

Cover the cutlets on both sides with heavy wax paper or place side by side in a couple of heavy duty gallon re-sealable plastic storage or freezer bags, and using a meat tenderizer, pound gently until they are about 1/4 thick uniformly.  Lightly salt and pepper.

In a large plate or pie pan, mix together the flour, salt, black pepper, dried oregano and the finely grated Parmigiano cheese.  

Whisk the egg whites until foamy.  One by one, dip the chicken cutlets into the egg whites and lightly dredge the cutlets in the flour mixture.  Set aside on a few plates, wax paper or a cookie sheet.

Cooking

In a 12 inch fry pan, heat half the butter and half the olive oil until shimmering and hot.  Add the chicken cutlets, and on medium to high heat, sear both sides until golden brown, about 4 minutes each side.  They should be about 2/3 cooked inside.  Remove, cover and set aside.

In the same pan, add the rest of the olive oil and when hot, sear the lemon slices first until they are darkened and seared, and now add half the artichoke hearts until they are also slightly toasty.  Remove and set aside.  Keep this large pan close, we will need it to finish this feast.

In a 10 inch fry pan, add the 2 tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic, heat until aromatic, then add the wine.  Reduce by half, about 2 minutes, and then add the chicken stock and heat until it begins to simmer. 

Now add the rest of the artichoke hearts, fresh thyme and capers, simmer until the artichokes are cooked, about 4 minutes.

On low to medium heat, whisk in the last half of the butter, the cream and all the lemon juice, simmer and whisk until you have a creamy emulsion.

In the original large cast iron pan, add half of the artichoke sauce and then add back the chicken cutlets, and then the other half of the artichoke sauce on top of everything.  Simmer on low to medium until fully cooked, about 4 minutes.  

Remove from heat, add the lemon zest, Italian parsley, the seared lemon slices and the seared artichoke hearts on top.  Serve with a side of pasta, potatoes, rice or crusty bread… all of which are really amazing as they soak up this sublime sauce.