You can—pardon me here, Giada—imagine Giada de Laurentiis pronouncing it: pee-CAHT-tah!!!! Staccato indeed: “With each sound or note sharply detached or separated from the others.” Piccata’s notes are plucky ones, puckery ones: wine, lemon, capers, parsley. Little baby suckerpunches, each one of them, all held together by butter’s softness and a bit of stock.
A whole bunch of us grew up eating chicken piccata at Italian-American restaurants with our parents, or at least I did, preceded by an entire serving of fried calamari, and breadsticks too. I’d eat every last little swipe of sauce, excited at how it made the back of my tongue water, at how smooth it felt, at how it draped itself over long strips of pasta. It’s a thrilling sauce. Even more thrilling is the fact that you can use it on any protein that goes well with lemon and wine. (Even tofu and chickpeas!)
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Prepare your protein.
- For chicken: Pound boneless, skinless breasts ‘til they’re thin, then give them a bit of salt and pepper and coat them lightly in flour. Fry on each side until they’re cooked through, and keep them warm in the oven.
- For fish: Sprinkle with salt and pepper, dredge lightly in flour, cook for a few minutes on each side, until cooked through.
- For tofu: Go for something extra-firm and press it, then slice it thinly and coat it in salt, pepper, and flour, then fry it ‘til it’s nice and brown on each side.
- Chickpeas or white beans: Do nothing! Unless they’re dried. In that case, soak them and cook them up real nice like this.
Make your sauce.
In the pan that you may or may not have cooked your protein in, sauté some chopped or thinly sliced shallots—or diced onion, if that’s all you have—in olive oil or butter until they’re translucent. Then add some stock: Chicken piccata wants for chicken stock; fish piccata needs fish stock; tofu or beans do well with vegetable stock. You’ll want about a third of a cup for every two-person serving, but feel free to eyeball it, and remember that this sauce is good—you’ll want a lot of it. Next add lemon juice, roughly one lemon for every two servings, and a good healthy splash of white wine. Two splashes, maybe. Last come the capers. Go wild here. Just sprinkle them in there liberally. Everyone loves capers. Let this all simmer for a bit.
Don’t forget a starch.
Pasta is the obvious choice here—go for something long, like angel hair or spaghetti or fettuccine. But you can also try mashed potatoes, or whatever other starch strikes your fancy. (Fried toast? Why the heck not!)
Taste your sauce. Do you like it? Is it puckery and buttery and winey and smooth? Good, that means it’s ready! If it doesn’t taste ready, give it more lemon, or more stock, or more time. Once you like where it’s at, add your protein back in, and let it all simmer together for a few minutes so the protein adopts some of the piccata flavor into its insides. In the last minute or so of cooking, throw a handful of chopped parsley into the pot. And ta-da! You have pee-CAHT-tah!
Garnish with lemon slices if that be your wont. Just be sure to kiss your fingers like an Italian chef before serving. Muah!