The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 02.14.06


First, take a chicken and a bottle of Marsala

I've been asked on a number of occasions what Marsala is and if it can be substituted in a recipe. Readers will most likely have seen this ingredient listed on many Italian restaurant menus. Most often, Marsala appears locally as an important addition to a sauce for chicken or veal.

Let me explain…

Marsala is a blended, fortified wine of Sicilian origin, aged for two years or more in casks. Marsala is a dark amber color with a rich, smoky flavor, and varies from sweet to dry. It is also often used as a dessert wine and in many desserts such as the Italian Zabaglione.

Originating in Western Sicily, Marsala takes its name from the town where it was produced. Although the area had been making fortified wine for a long time, even dating back to Roman times, it was in the late 1700s that the Englishman John Woodhouse developed the technique used today for making Marsala.

Marsala ranges from dry to sweet -- the sweetest called dolce, the driest called secco -- and is graded from young to old: Fine being the youngest with one year aging, grading up through Superiore, Superiore Riserva, Vergine, and Vergine Stravecchio or Vergine Riserva, being the oldest with a mighty minimum of ten years aging.

Generally, the dry Marsalas are served as aperitif or in a sauce and the sweet ones as dessert wines. However it is also a vital ingredient in many Italian recipes including tiramisu. As a general rule, choose the sweeter varieties for cooking as they have a richer flavor. Marsala can be substituted with Madeira or Sherry or Port.

Chicken Marsala ~ Heart Healthy

Want flavor without lots of salt and fat? Try this dish, which combines wine, lemon juice, and mushrooms into a delicious sauce.

1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C flour
4 (5 oz total) chicken breasts, boned, skinless
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 C Marsala wine
1/2 C chicken stock, fat skimmed from top
1/2 lemon, juice only
1/2 C mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1. Mix together pepper, salt, and flour. Coat chicken with seasoned flour.
2. In heavy-bottomed skillet, heat oil. Place chicken breasts in skillet and brown on both sides, then remove and set aside.
3. To skillet, add wine and stir until heated. Add juice, stock, and mushrooms. Stir, reduce heat, and cook for about 10 minutes, until sauce is partially reduced.
4. Return browned chicken breasts to skillet. Spoon sauce over chicken.
5. Cover and cook for about 5-10 minutes or until chicken is done.
6. Serve sauce over chicken. Garnish with chopped parsley.