Growing up, my family rarely went out to eat, but when we did, we went to Peter’s Cafe Italiano, a little Italian restaurant in town that was only open three nights a week. And without fail, I always ordered my favorite dish — Chicken Marsala. I remember watching Peter make it through the kitchen window, and I loved seeing the flames ignite in the pan when he added the marsala wine.
For 20 years, I’ve been trying to make it as good as Peter’s, and I think I’ve got it – with one key difference. I use pheasant instead of chicken.
Other light-meat game birds can be used, such as Hungarian partridge or ruffed grouse. But if you prefer stronger, gamier birds, I recommend first soaking them in buttermilk for a few hours or overnight. This recipe also works well for all ages of birds, as the sauce and pounding of the meat makes this dish moist and tender.
This dish is fantastic served on a bed of spinach or over pasta.
Serves 3 to 4
2 pheasant breasts, lightly pounded with meat hammer
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup flour for dusting
2 ounces butter, for browning peasant
2 ounces butter
5 garlic cloves, minced finely or crushed with garlic press
1 bunch of green onions, chopped in about 1/4-inch rings (keep greens separate from white bottoms)
8 ounces sliced brown cremini mushrooms
1 cup marsala cooking wine
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
cayenne pepper to taste
8 ounces penne pasta
Heat water and 1 teaspoon salt in large pot for noodles. When water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Strain the noodles and then toss with olive oil to keep them from sticking to each other.
Mix salt and pepper with flour, and lightly dredge pheasant breasts in the flour.
In medium saucepan, melt the 2 ounces of butter on medium to medium-high heat. Carefully place breasts in the hot butter, and cook for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side or until brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix heavy cream with cornstarch very well, until the cornstarch is completely incorporated. Set aside.
In large frying pan on medium heat, melt 4 ounces of butter and add crushed garlic. After garlic begins to brown, add the chopped white onion bottoms to garlic and butter. Next, add salt and cayenne. (Only use a small pinch of cayenne, if any at all, if you don’t tolerate spicy heat well. But if you like things spicier, use a larger pinch of cayenne.) Toss the mix a couple of times, add the diced mushrooms, and turn the heat to high, stirring constantly.
As soon as the pan is very hot, add the marsala cooking wine and mix well. Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally. When the liquid is reduced by half, mix in the heavy cream with cornstarch, stirring constantly. Once the sauce thickens, add the browned pheasant breasts and green onion tops. Spoon the white marsala sauce over the pheasant and remove from heat.
On a serving plate, make a bed of noodles. Using a spoon or spatula, add pheasant and sauce to the noodles. Spoon on additional cream sauce as desired.