This chicken saltimbocca is a delicious chicken version of the classic Italian dish. It's packed with flavor, both in the chicken and the sauce with it, yet all easy and quick enough for a midweek meal.
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Much as I love some slightly more "project" like cooking now and then, it's not realistic all the time. Like many people, I have my list of quick meal ideas for busier days to mix in as and when. But you can still manage a home-cooked meal in limited time.
Some of our go-tos, in fairness, take a little prep ahead of time, such as marinating or putting things in the slow cooker. But true start-to-finish quick can be perfect when plans change or you didn't quite manage to get organized. This is one of those meals: not too many ingredients and quick to make. And even better, the result is restaurant-worthy.
What does saltimbocca mean?
"Saltimbocca" is Italian and literally translates as "jump in the mouth". The idea being it's so good it jumps right into your mouth to be enjoyed! The dish is most commonly considered from the Rome area, but there's a little debate on that (such as the fact prosciutto is from further North) and you will find it with variations in a few areas.
Traditionally you make it with veal, or in some cases with pork, but chicken makes a great alternative especially for cooking at home. Chicken is more widely available and generally easier to get the cooking right. With veal (and pork to an extent), you have to watch more closely to avoid the meat drying out.
Variations in this dish
The key components of the dish are relatively thin cutlets of meat wrapped with prosciutto and sage, fried and served with a wine-based sauce. Though even with something so simple, you'll find some differences.
For example, some place the sage next to the meat, others the prosciutto first. Some wrap the prosciutto all around, others just on one side. Seasonings can vary, and some dredge the meat in flour before cooking. You might roll it all up or cook it flat.
Then the sauce can be just wine, wine and stock, or some use marsala as the liquid. Most will thicken it through a mixture of simmering and flour or corn starch, and use butter to enrich it, but how you get to that can vary.
My suggested preparation method and reasons why
I've researched and tried various methods to come up with what's both easy and, I hope you'll agree, really tasty with the recipe below. Of course some is personal preference, but let me explain my thinking (some with the help of this traditional veal recipe).
I've gone with cooking flat rather than rolled as both it's quicker and more likely to cook evenly. While we love German beef rouladen, the rolling there keeps the filling as well as moisture in during a slow cook. These, however, are cooked quickly so there's less gain to rolling.
Then, I've chosen to place the prosciutto next to the chicken and sage on the outside. A few reasons. First, the sage helps give more flavor to infuse the sauce when it has contact with the pan. Then, it can be too strong next to the chicken, especially as it may not cook which helps to mellow the flavor. Finally, it looks prettier on the outside.
I have, however, added a little chopped sage under the prosciutto (an idea from this recipe) to help get a little more of the flavor in the chicken itself without it being overpowering.
The prosciutto is only on one side and cooked briefly. I know, it may seem easier to wrap it around the chicken. But the prosciutto can become overly salty when cooked too much, so this way, you only cook it briefly on the prosciutto side then cook the rest on the uncovered side. And a cocktail stick keeps everything in place.
Making the sauce
One thing that is pretty consistent is you use the same pan you cook the chicken in to make the sauce. So no extra clean up! It also means you mix all that great flavor from the chicken cooking into the sauce.
Partly for this reason, I suggest you use a cast iron skillet or braiser, as I used here. You could also use stainless steel but not too thin or else watch the heat carefully so it doesn't burn. Nonstick won't give you the same little crispy bits that add that lovely flavor.
I've used wine and stock for the sauce as particularly with chicken, I think this slightly more mellow combination that the traditional all wine fits better.
I've kept things easy, though, with a little flour at the start to help thicken, and not too much stock so you don't have to reduce all that long. I find this is easier than flouring the chicken (which can all too easily be too much and give them a weird coating) or using a corn starch thickener.
These might look like a lot of points but honestly, the whole thing is really so easy and the result is incredibly tasty. These just try to help you get the best possible results.
Sides for saltimbocca
Since this has a flavorful sauce, it's worth serving it with something to soak it up. Mashed potato is a pretty common choice. We went for orzo, as my kids aren't big mash fans, or even crusty bread would be good.
Along with this, something to contrast and cut through the richness can be a good idea. Greens like peas, green beans (as we had) or sautéed spinach or other greens would all be good.
Chicken saltimbocca is really so perfectly named as it's a dish packed with flavor that's a real crowd-pleaser. It's the kind of dish that would fit right in at a restaurant, but is easy and quick enough to be just as suited to a busy night at home. So give it a try soon and you'll no doubt be adding it to your regular rotation.
Try these other tasty and easy chicken dishes
- Chicken Provençal (with tomatoes, herbs and wine)
- Palestinian sumac chicken - musakhan
- Peruvian roast chicken - pollo a la brasa
- Chicken yakitori (Japanese skewers)
- Plus get more Italian recipes in the archives.
- 1 lb chicken breast (1lb being either two large breasts, halved lengthwise or 4 tenders, each approx 4oz/110g)
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper approx
- 5 sage leaves (large)
- 4 slices prosciutto
- 1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoon butter
- ½ tablespoon flour
- ⅓ cup white wine
- ⅓ cup chicken stock
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice or a little more to taste
- Place the pieces of chicken next to each other on a cutting board and cover with cling wrap/film over the top. Gently pound the chicken just enough so that they are relatively even in thickness. Remove the cling wrap/film.
- Season both sides of the chicken with pepper. If you like you can also add a little salt, but bear in mind prosciutto is a little salty - I'd suggest only on first side if at all. Finely chop one of the sage leaves and press this onto the chicken on the second side.
- Top each of the pieces of chicken with a slice of prosciutto so that it covers the chicken as far as possible (you can fold over a little, if needed, where the chicken narrows). Top each piece with a large sage leaf then use a cocktail stick through the sage leaf, prosciutto and chicken to secure it all in place but lie flat (see photos).
- Warm the oil in a large skillet/frying pan or braiser over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces prosciutto side down and cook for 1 - 2 minutes to lightly crisp the prosciutto and start the sage releasing its aroma.
- Turn the chicken over, taking care not to break up the prosciutto if it sticks slightly, then cook for another 3 - 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken and set aside, covering with foil to keep them warm.
- Meanwhile, add the butter to the same skillet and once it is relatively well melted, add the flour. Cook for a minute to let it sizzle and brown slightly.
- Then, deglaze the pan with the wine followed by the stock (add the stock just around half a minute after, to let the wine boil off a little of the alcohol). Continue to simmer the sauce for about 2 - 3 minutes, stirring regularly to both scrape any browning from the bottom of the skillet and avoid it becoming lumpy. It should thicken slightly. Add a little black pepper and salt, if needed to taste. Then add the lemon juice, stir through and serve the chicken with the sauce poured over the top.