Dedicated to my best (vegetarian!) lady friend, Mikki.
Growing up outside of Boston, I remember going to this fantastic Italian place that served the best Chicken Marsala ever.
It wasn’t a fancy restaurant. I think the dish was served out of an aluminum tray. I remember distinctly though when it opened and my parents took me there for the first time for lunch. The decor was simple. There was a sneeze guard overlooking a queue of meatballs, spaghetti, veal parmigiana. And then there was a the chicken. This Chicken Marsala was incredible. It was unlike anything I had ever had before. I’d never fancied myself much of a mushroom person, and I hadn’t really had a dish that had wine in it before. But all the flavors came together so deliciously. Over linguine it was addictive.
Fast forward to today, when all I want is a big, hearty serving of my childhood favorite, minus the meat. Let’s break it down. What makes a truly fantastic Chicken Marsala? For one, chicken marsala isn’t exactly a sauce, nor is it classic creamy pasta dish, aka cheese-laden fettucine. It’s saucy. It’s meant to be saucy. But our sauce here is a creamy, marsala-esque and just thick enough to coat our pasta and allow it to intermingle with our chicken without anyone asking for seconds of “that great booze soup.” Our lovely creamy sauce here, if I had to compare it to anything, would be an enriched, wine-infused gravy. And a gravy starts with a roux.
Our style of vegetarian chicken marsala creates this roux by first dredging phony chicken in flour and then using the browned floury bits left in the pan after cooking the chicken as the base of our sauce. When this is traditionally done, what results is a fond, a carmelized meaty something or other that is rich in chickeny flavor with complex, toasty undertones. When we do this with phony chicken, do we get a fond? Uh yes and no. We do manage to create that Maillard reaction complexity and yes, there is a vague hint of poultry. However, in creating our sauce we need to up the umami with the addition of vegetarian chicken base. The main purpose of this fond is creating that velvety thickness our sauce requires. Enough said.
Apart from the replacement of chicken with fake meat, our marsala is very similar to the original. There’s lovely mushroom heartiness, silky sauce, and traditional Italian seasoning. Now some might scoff at using fake chicken, and I’ve seen very lovely renditions of vegetarian marsala done with tofu. Our reason for using the packaged phony baloney (ahem chicken) has to do with authenticity. I wanted those chunks of chicken swimming in marsala decadence. Tofu, even if fried, doesn’t really hold its own nor does it have that fibrous, proteinous oomph we get with fake chicken. Our favorite version of this dish uses Quorn™ Nak’d Cutlets, but we’ve tried it with the Beyond Meat™ Strips and they make a suitable vegan alternative.
Served over the pasta of your choice (we love linguine or ziti) this dish is as good if not better than my childhood favorite!
- 1 package Quorn™ Naked Chik'n Cutlets or 1 package Beyond Meat™ chicken-free strips
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbs butter or vegan margarine (like Earth Balance™)
- 10 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup sweet marsala wine
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbs vegetarian broth base (we like McKay's Chicken style instant broth)
- 2 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley
- 8 oz penne or linguine, cooked
- Defrost the vegetarian chicken cutlets if using frozen Quorn™ Chik'n cutlets. You can do this by leaving them in the fridge for a few hours or microwaving on high for 2-3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil and 1 tbs of butter in a large saucepan on medium high heat for 2-3 minutes.
- Allow chicken substitute to cool and then moisten chicken substitute by rinsing with warm water. Immediately toss chicken with flour and tap gently to remove excess. Fry dredged chicken in saucepan over medium high heat, about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through until lightly browned on both sides. Remove chicken to a rack and set aside.
- Add mushrooms to the saucepan and brown over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and lower heat to medium. Stir in marsala wine and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth base and water and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes to thicken slightly. Stir in remaining 1 tbs of butter and gently add in fried chicken cutlets. Breading on vegetarian chicken will be fragile so handle with care. Continue to heat over medium-low until faux chicken is heated through and sauce is slightly thickened.
- Toss gently with cooked pasta and served immediately, garnished with parsley.