You Might Want to Drink This Butter Sauce—and That's Okay

February 14, 2017

I remember the first time I went to Trattoria Sostanza, a one-room, family-run classic trattoria in Florence. I was told by a reputable source that their pollo al burro (chicken in butter) was the thing to have: a double chicken breast in a pool of butter, served still sizzling in a pan. I was intrigued, as chicken is not much of a hero of the Tuscan table these days as it once was.

As far back as the Renaissance, chicken was widely-used in Florence, but when it fells off menus during the two world wars, chicken became a rare, luxury item. Cheaper cuts of meat and offal took over as the more affordable proteins of choice at home, supported by large amounts of bread, which is why a good, juicy sauce is so important in Tuscan main dishes—the bread is a vehicle for sopping up flavor, while also serving to help fill bellies.

But back to the bird at hand. Sostanza's pollo al burro, is as simple as it sounds: chicken, cooked in butter. However, it's much more than just that. The chicken breast, thick and tender, is dusted with flour, dipped in egg, and cooked in bubbling hot butter so that it has a golden brown, slightly crisp, savory coating. The butter sauce is so delicious I could drink it. My Tuscan husband's nonna used to prepare veal fillets, pounded very thin, much the same way—bracioline al burro, she called them. They're legendary, my husband's school friends used to ask to come over to play just as an excuse to stay for dinner so they could eat them.

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I've heard Sostanza does a fantastic bistecca, too, but, I've never been able to tear myself away from the chicken to order it and, well, you can get good bistecca in plenty of places in Florence. You can't get this pollo al burro anywhere else, except now you can make it at home. The secret? Simply two main ingredients of such good quality you wouldn't want to mask either.

We won't blame you if you want to drink the sauce. Photo by Emiko Davies

Elizabeth David's Italian Food (1954) has a recipe for “Florentine chicken breast”, which sounds remarkably similar to the Sostanza dish, with the difference being her's isn't dipped in egg and is finished in the oven. I like the oven finish and the fact it allows the cook to carry on with getting the rest of dinner ready—mashing some freshly boiled potatoes maybe, or tossing together a salad. While simple, the chicken is satisfying and even feels quite decadent, filling the room with that unmistakable scent of caramelized butter when it's placed on the table. There's one thing not to forget: Good bread to mop up all that butter.

Have you had chicken in butter before? Tell us in the comments!

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Top Comment:
“Emiko, you always share the most simple and delicious sounding recipes! Looking forward to trying both this and the gorgonzola focaccia.”
— Tory N.

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Tory Nettleton
    Tory Nettleton
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The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Tory N. February 21, 2017
Emiko, you always share the most simple and delicious sounding recipes! Looking forward to trying both this and the gorgonzola focaccia.
Emiko February 21, 2017
Thank you Tory!
BAE February 15, 2017
Being an experienced, but not very intuitive cook, I need a recipe for this! It sounds and looks wonderful, but I just can't wing it (pun fully intended).
Emiko February 15, 2017
Oh! Sorry through a small technical issue, the recipe was supposed to be linked to the bottom of the article. Will try to fix it right away, but in the meantime you can also find it here: https://food52.com/recipes/67916-chicken-in-butter
Linda February 14, 2017
I'm confused. Is this a big boneless skinless chicken breast or a bone in breast with skin?
Emiko February 14, 2017
No skin here, that's the wonderful crust that forms during cooking that you're looking at! It's boneless.
David L. February 14, 2017
Where does dipping in egg come in in the recipe?
Emiko February 14, 2017
It's not part of my recipe included here but if you'd like to add the egg-dipping, you'd do it right after dredging with flour and then place it on the hot pan with the bubbling butter.
ktr February 14, 2017
This sounds amazing! Thank you for sharing it.