Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace Weekly print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom.
BY TOM YATES
Tulips, daffodils, horse racing, and strong mint juleps are sure signs that spring has sprung here in Lexington. For food lovers, locavores, or anyone who respects the integrity of locally grown food, spring really begins when the farmers’ market moves outside for opening day. After a long winter, the Lexington Farmers’ Market ditched its indoor digs and set up shop this past weekend under the Pavilion in Cheapside Park. Although I hit the market early on opening day, it was bustling. Warmed by the sun beaming down through a brilliant cloudless sky, everyone embraced the serene energy and vibe that reverberated throughout the market. While people meandered around, a lone violinist quietly serenaded the morning crowd. Market Days. Let the games begin.
Typically, pickings are slim on opening day. Not this year. Although I’ve grown accustomed to the usual early season out-of-state offerings, I was blown away by wonderfully fun local surprises. After eating my way through a wide variety of cheeses (chevre, beer, and cheddar), I wandered up the side street of the market. Chilled by the dimmed shade of the old courthouse, I was quite taken with baskets of delicate micro greens, watercress, and pea shoots from Hoot Owl Holler Farm in Boyle County. In all of my market days, I can’t recall ever running across micro anything. Sold.
On my way to the car, I stopped by the Blue Moon Farm stand for a bite of garlic scape pesto. Why not? Cheese and pesto. Breakfast of champions. My non plan changed completely when I spotted fresh feathery Bracken County shitake mushrooms nestled between tied bunches of young green garlic bulbs. Game on.
Chicken Marsala might seem a bit old fashioned and old school, but the combination of sauteed crisp chicken breasts, sweet fortified marsala wine, stock, white button mushrooms, onions, and garlic is downright delicious.
After using a damp kitchen towel to clean the shitake mushrooms, I snipped the tough stems from the caps, sliced the large mushrooms into thin strips, left the smaller ones whole, and set them aside.
I pounded two small boneless chicken breasts into very thin cutlets (1/4 inch thick). After seasoning the cutlets with salt and pepper, I melted 2 tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet over a medium flame. When the butter sizzled, I dredged the chicken pieces through sifted flour and pan fried them until they were golden brown. I removed the chicken cutlets to a side plate, tented them, and let them rest.
While the skillet was still hot, I added two tablespoons of butter and a thinly sliced shallot. I sauteed the shallot threads until they wilted into the butter, tossed in minced garlic, cranked the heat to medium high, tumbled the mushrooms into the skillet, and let them rip undisturbed for 10 minutes. Just before the mushrooms started to caramelize, I showered them with kosher salt and fresh parsley. After the salt seared into the their soft flesh, I deglazed the pan with 1 cup of Lombardo Fine I.P. ambra sweet marsala wine, reduced it to a glaze, added 1/2 cup chicken stock, and slid the crisp chicken cutlets into the sauce to warm through.
After boiling 1/2 pound of linguini in heavily salted water until al dente, I twirled the pasta into large bowls, nestled the chicken cutlets on top of the pasta, and spooned the shitake mushroom marsala sauce over the chicken. To brighten the sleepy sauce, I finished with tender pea shoots lightly tossed in olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
The mushroom marsala wine reduction spilled over the crisp buttery chicken, bathing it in the aromatic sauce. Perfect. Savory and sweet. Classic marsala.
While the tender glazed chicken alone could have sealed the deal, it was all about the fresh shitake mushrooms. Instead of collapsing or melting away, the succulent meaty sponges absorbed the sultry sauce, plumped, remained robust, and popped with earthy marsala wine-infused mushroom jus.