Chicken Francese, or Francaise, that most wonderfully delicious pounded chicken cutlet that too often is overcooked, made too thick and way over sauced. OK, maybe some of that is my personal preference. I’ll concede that on the sauce part..I love sauce but I don’t want sauce to be the most voluminous part of my plate. Back to the chicken, a hotly debated topic among people who feel like arguing about such trivia, but here’s my history of the Francese. The dish as we know it from countless restaurants and catering halls is purely Italian-American. What does one mean by that? It means the dish was the evolution or sometimes a close facsimile to a dish which the immigrant cooks brought with them during the Great Immigration, 1895-1930 or so. For those Francese fans who are scratching their heads though when visiting Italy, the term FRANCESE or FRANCAISE will not be found on a menu referring to this dish. Instead look for anything that says INDORATO which means “Encased in Gold”…the golden batter or breading that encircles the food. Chicken today might be found in southern Italy, around the Amalfi coast to be exact where this cooking style originated..veal or eggplant cooked indorato style with a light lemon and wine sauce over it. Simple. Not at all different from today’s Francese. The chicken is generally a new world idea (cutlet, pounded style).Italians, especially in the south of Italy needed those chickens to produce the valuable eggs. They were not going to use those chickens for daily eating, instead when the birds got too old they turned them into those long simmered Cacciatore style dishes. Braising the old tired birds till they were as tender as a spring chicken! Most cutlet style dishes served, also known as Scaloppine style because of the sliced cut of the meat, if they contain chicken are New World notions where EVERYTHING was plenty. I’m sure you’ve seen a varied of vegetables,fish, seafood, meats and poultry turned into Francese style. The Francese (French style) part MIGHT harken back to when the immigrants first came to the US, the new country being awash in “if it’s written in French, it’s fancy”…remember, America was only 100 years young at that time and trying to gain traction in the world and be looked at the way you’d look at a country with a 2000 year old monarchy..well, calling something French gave it…CLASS. Maybe it was a clever way to get people to think they were eating a classy dish, not Italian, but French…you see? However, it ain’t French, it’s Italian, and tweaked and turned into the Italian-American dish we love today.
On a recent trip to Central Europe I did notice on a menu in Poland a chicken French style…it was the same dish..the egg and flour dipped piece of boneless chicken in a wine sauce. So..further confusion…maybye not so Italian-American after all? More delicious food for thought!!
Serves: 2-4 TIME: About 40 minutes
4 CHICKEN CUTLETS TRIMMED AND POUNDED TO NO MORE THAN 1/4 INCH
SIFTED UNBLEACHED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR SEASONED LIGHTLY WITH KOSHER SALT, BLACK PEPPER
4 LARGE BEATEN EGGS
1/8 cup CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN FLATLEAF PARSLEY
fresh GROUND BLACK PEPPER
1/8 CUP FRESHLY GRATED PECORINO ROMANO
1/2 CUP CHICKEN STOCK *CLEAR*, preferably homemade, if not, use a good boxed 100% fat free and low sodium type
1/8 cup WHITE WINE
2 TBS UNSALTED BUTTER
JUICE OF ONE FRESH LEMON,
4 thin SLICES OF LEMON
Start by pounding the cutlets gently between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. When you have them at 1/4 inch, dredge them in the flour, shaking off the excess. To the beated bowl of eggs add 1/2 the parsley, a nice pinch of the black pepper, the grated Pecorino, and whisk together well. In a wide skillet (frying pan), the heavier the better, gently heat 2 tbs. of olive oil. When a drop of the egg mixture bubbles and dances , the pan it ready. Dip the cutlets in the egg mixture and let the excess run off then gently place into the frying pan. Give at least 4 minutes per side, the coating should be a nice golden color. Remove to a platter and keep covered until you’ve completed frying the chicken. Deglaze the pan with the wine, then the stock and add a pinch of salt, then bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and cook for 5 minutes then add the butter, whisk in, then add the chicken gently to the pan. Let it cook for one minute on one side, then gently turn and let cook on the other side for 2 minutes. Now add the lemon juice and remainder of the parsley and blend in. Let the chicken sit in this mix now for about 2 minutes, Serve. Olive Oil garlic and Rosemary Potatoes work well with Chicken Francese as does any garlic and oil cooked green vegetable. Top with a lemon slice!
See, not so difficult and lots of sunny Italian flavor. Before you add the chicken though make sure you have checked the pan sauce before adding the chicken.