How to Prepare the Absolute Best Veal Marsala
I learned this veal marsala recipe from my friend Chef Ricco Deluca who has forgotten more about cooking Italian food then I'll ever know. He grew up in family of cooks including his mom who was Frank Sinatra's family cook for more than 15 years.
I wanted to know how to make the very best veal Marsala so I asked Ricco not only for his recipe, but to give me everything he could think of that would make this the best veal Marsala recipe ever.
I hounded him with questions about why he did something this way and why other things that way. The final result is filled with so many details that only a real foodie would enjoy.
For those who just want the recipe without all the detailed explanations, I've included it below. But if you want to know why Chef Ricco cooks the mushrooms separately from the rest of the dish, you'll want to check out the other parts to the story.
Here I'll discuss different ingredients like salted or unsalted butter, what type of veal and why demi glace?
Ricco and I talked about cooking equipment including what kind of pan to use and what size. We discussed cooking techniques and adjustments to make while preparing this dish.
You may think information overload, but this what I love about cooking. I don't just want to know what to, when to do it and how long to do it for, I want to know WHY.
And don't forget to check out my recipe for Chicken Marsala here.
Let's get started.
Veal Marsala Perfected
- ½ tablespoon butter
- ½ tablespoon oil
- 6 veal cutlets or scaloppini
- 1 medium shallot minced
- 1 sprig of thyme
- ¼ cup Marsala
- ¼ cup demi glace
- salt and white pepper to taste
For the mushrooms
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 2 teaspoon olive oil
- 3 large mushroms sliced
- Start by getting everything ready. This in French is called “mis en place”. It is especially important to have everything ready for this dish because things happen quickly and if you are held up chopping shallots while the veal is cooking, something is going to go wrong.
- Mince your shallot, chop your thyme, and have everything prepped before you even think about heating up a pan.
Prepping the Veal
- If you own a meat-tenderizing mallet that has a waffle side for tenderizing and a flat side for flattening, now is a good time to get it out of the drawer. If you don’t have a mallet, try using a rolling pin or a can of soup.
- Give each piece of veal a whack with the tenderizing side, then cover them with some clear plastic wrap and flatten them with the flat side so that they are all the same thickness. This will help break up the membrane from this cut of veal and make them more tender.
- Heat your pan over medium heat to get it hot and then add half your butter and oil. When the butter and oil are hot but not smoking, sauté three veal cutlets for just one minute per side. Remove them from the pan and reserve on a plate but don’t cover.
- The reason you don’t cover them is because they are thin, hot, and will continue to cook off the heat. If you cover them in foil, they will steam and get rubbery. You are going to add them back to the pan at the end so don’t worry about them getting cold.
- You want to be sure to save any accumulated juices that come from the cutlets to add back to the sauce.
- Repeat this process with the other three cutlets.
Making the Sauce
- Discard any oil in the pan if there is any and reduce the heat to medium. Add the shallot, thyme, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. When Ricco gave me this instruction my first question was, “How can you cook shallots in a dry pan?”
- His response was to keep stirring so the ingredients don’t burn and don’t walk away from the stove. In time with lots of practice, he reminded me, it becomes second nature. If you are concerned about burning the shallot, leave a little of the residual oil from cooking the veal cutlets.
- Add ¼ cup of Marsala wine and reduce to half. Add ¼ cup of demi glace, stir and correct seasonings by tasting to see if it needs a little more salt or pepper. How will you know? This is something you learn by doing.
- I have found that if whatever I am cooking is bland, a little bit of salt will perk it up. You have to be careful here because if the sauce is hot, your taste buds won’t taste anything. Try using a spoon to taste the sauce but be sure to blow on it to cool it off before you make any adjustments.
- You can also taste for sweetness at this point. If the sauce doesn’t have that wonderful Marsala flavor, you can add a touch of Marsala but again be careful not to overpower the taste.
- Reduce the sauce just a little and finish it by adding a tablespoon of cold butter. The restaurant term for this process is “mount” which means to whisk cold butter into a warm sauce for added flavor, smoother texture, and more sheen.
- If you are adding more than one tablespoon, it is important to add them piece by piece making sure the first one in fully incorporated before adding the next. If you add all the butter at once, you risk the chance of the sauce separating into liquid and fat. This is called “breaking.”
- Add the veal back to the pan for 30 seconds to 1 minute to reheat incorporate the flavors and warm it up. Serve it immediately with a side of pasta or simple rice dish.
What About Mushrooms?
- I’ve always associated Veal Marsala with sliced mushrooms so I asked Chef Ricco to give me some ideas and pointers on adding them to his recipe. He explained that in many restaurants, they typically cook the mushrooms right in the sauce to save time and reduce the number of dirty pans but he likes to cook them separately for a couple of reasons:
- Mushrooms give off a lot of liquid that he doesn’t want in his sauce.
- By cooking them separately they won’t taste like the rest of the dish. This way you are adding an additional layer of flavor to the over all recipe.
- How does he serve them? He likes to serve the mushrooms as a garnish on top of the dish after it’s been sauced. As an alternative, he might add them back to the saucepan right before serving.
- Be sure to get the mushrooms started before you begin cooking the veal. You don’t want to be messing around with mushrooms while the Marsala sauce is being made.
Preparing mushrooms to serve with Veal Marsala
- Clean fresh mushrooms with a damp cloth or paper towel. Never soak them in water or they will absorb the water like a sponge and be soggy.
- Thinly slice the mushrooms, and then sauté them in a little butter and oil. You want to cook them until they are just tender.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove from pan and reserve. If you are adding them back to the sauce just before serving, don’t worry about them getting cold.
- If you are going to serve on top of the veal as a garnish, cover and keep warm.
What Ingredients Do I Need to Make Restaurant Quality Veal Marsala?
What I want to do here is to start looking at this recipe in more detail. When I asked Ricco for his recipe, I was much more novice than I am today and had lots of questions. I wanted to know not just what he did in his recipe but why he did it. I also like to know what products he used and why they mattered.
Veal Marsala Recipe Ingredients
There are not many ingredients in the Very Best Veal Marsala Recipe but what you use can make a difference in the final product. So here are the ingredients in Ricco's recipe and why he likes to use them.
What is the best cut of veal for this recipe?
You want the thin, lean, boneless cutlet or scaloppini that comes from different muscles in the leg.
Butter - Salted or Unsalted?
Best to use unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salt. You can and will adjust the seasonings at the end but it’s easier to add salt and impossible to take remove it if over salted.
Clarified butter would work great with this dish, but unless you have some in your refrigerator, it takes extra time and effort to make.
What type of oil?
Use a combination 90% canola oil blended with 10% olive oil. Chef Ricco explained that many professional chefs use a blend of oil because the canola oil has a higher smoking point while the olive oil adds flavor.
Besides, as much as I love the taste of olive oil, you don’t want its flavor to overpower the flavor of the meat and Marsala.
Why use both oil and butter?
I like using a combination of butter and oil because the butter adds flavor while the oil, with it’s higher smoking point, allows you to cook at a higher temperature. Heat is your friend when sautéing so the combination gives you the best of both cooking fats.
Why coat the cutlets with flour?
Although Ricco likes the flavor of veal Marsala better without flour, he suggests using it for the following reasons:
- After tenderizing the meat, it will bleed and the flour will help seal it in.
- Unless you are going to serve the veal immediately from the pan to the plate and eat it right away, the flour crust will hold in some of the juices and therefore flavor.
- The flour will hold more of the sauce to the veal.
- Some people enjoy the “mouth feel” associated with a crust created by the flour.
What is seasoned flour?
If you take some flour and add salt and pepper to it, you have seasoned flour. Chef Ricco likes to make up a batch of seasoned flour and store it in a container in his pantry. This way whenever he needs to coat something for sautéing, he always has some on hand.
To make a batch for yourself, combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour with 1 teaspoon of salt & 1 teaspoon of pepper.
You can experiment with different seasonings to come up with your own special blend but don’t get to carried away or you will have a pantry filled with too many containers of flour.
What is demi-glace?
Demi glace is a brown sauce reduction that is essential in making classic sauce. A simple way to describe demi-glace is to say it is a rich brown sauce that has been reduced to a thick gelatinous consistency.
Culinary students spend a lot of time in cooking school learning how to make stocks, stock reductions, and glaces like demi-glace. Professional chefs will often have a large pot of veal and beef bones simmering day and night to make the stuff. You can find a good recipe for making it at home at demi glace.
What is Marsala?
Marsala is a fortified wine that is imported from Sicily and can be used for cooking or drinking. You will find it at your local liquor store in both dry and sweet flavors. I prefer to cook with the dry flavored wine. Marsala has a dark amber color with a distinctive smoky flavor.
You don’t have to buy the most expensive bottle of Marsala but stay away from the cheapest. You especially want to stay clear of the fake Marsala cooking wine that you find in supermarkets. It’s not worth the bottle they put it in.
What you don’t cook with, you may want to use as an aperitif, a light alcoholic drink that is often served before dining to stimulate the appetite.
What is a shallot?
Shallots are members of the onion family. They are much smaller than traditional looking onions and have a paper-thin brown skin that covers a purple-tinged white flesh. They have a combination onion – garlic flavor but milder than either one.
You can find them at most supermarkets these days usually next to the garlic. You want to look for well-shaped heads that are not sprouting. You will find them in various sizes so buy according to what your recipe calls for.
What is white pepper?
White pepper comes from the same dried berry as black pepper, the Poper nigrum, but when producing white pepper, the berry is allowed to fully ripen so the outer skin shrinks and is then removed. The remaining grayish white kernel has a milder flavor than black pepper.
It is typically used in lighter colored dishes where you don’t want the color of black pepper to contrast with the sauce. You see white pepper used a lot in cream sauces.
What Type Of Cooking Pan For Veal Marsala?
This section looks at best cookware for making this dish at home but these are only suggestions from Chef Ricco. They are by no means absolute requirements.
If your kitchen is equipped with other cookware, don't feel like you have to go out and by additional pans just to make this dish. Use what you have and adapt your cooking to the tools you own.
What type of cooking pan and what size?
Ideally, Chef Ricco recommends using an 8 – 10 inch sauté pan or fry pan and cook 3 at a time. You never want to crowd a pan when you are sautéing or the meat will steam rather than fry properly.
Besides you are going to add the meat back to the pan to reheat when the sauce is done.
Why not just use a 14-inch pan and cook them all at the same time?
This was my question since I owned a large frying pan. Ricco responded:
The smaller pan holds heat better especially on a home cooks smaller stove-tops. The 14-inch pans are great for commercial kitchen with those giant BTU burning stoves, but most home stoves just don’t have the power to get those big pans hot and keep them hot.
All pans, like ovens, have hot spots. The bigger the pan, the bigger the hot spot and hot spots cause erratic cooking.
Smaller pans maintain the heat better for proper cooking. Don’t forget when you add the meat to a hot pan; the initial reaction is for the pan to cool down. And Chef Ricco tells me time and time again, “Heat is your friend when cooking.” A smaller pan will be less affected by any sudden additions.
On my stove-top, many of my larger pans just don’t fit the burner so until I can afford a new stove, I just have to try working with smaller pans.
What about non-stick coated pans?
Not a good idea for this dish. We want the pan to get hot and create a fond (the brown bits stuck to the pan after sautéing also called sucs) that will add flavor to the sauce. Doesn’t work that well with non-stick pans because nothing sticks to the pan to create fond.
Does the frying pan material matter?
Some really experienced cooks like working with copper pots and pans because of their superior heat conductivity. You crank up the heat and these pans heat up fast. This is great if you really know what you are doing but if you are not paying extreme attention, it's easy to overcook or even burn your food in an instant.
Another reason experienced cooks like copper is because they don't have hot spots. You don't have to worry about one area of your pan being hotter than the rest of the pan allowing much more even cooking.
They also look great but take a lot of work to keep in tip top condition and they are extremely expensive.
A great choice for preparing this dish because the veal will stick some thus creating the fond. A lot of you don't want anything you cook to stick and go the nonstick route. I can understand this for some foods like eggs and fish, but if I'm making a pan sauce, I want the stickiness.
Stainless steel is also a lot cheaper than copper and stainless doesn't conduct heat nearly as fast as copper so it is more forgiving for beginner and intermediate level cooks. Plus there is much less maintenance with stainless compared to copper. You can even put many brands of stainless cookware into the dishwasher. Then there's the versatility. Acidic foods don't react to stainless steel as they do copper and pure aluminum.
The down side to cooking with stainless is less than stellar heat conductivity. More hot spots, more uneven temperatures come with stainless but if you are careful, you can make that work for you.
Aluminum and Hard Anodized Aluminum
So what's the difference? Aluminum that has been "anodized" in less technical terms means the aluminum has been placed in chemical baths to prepare it to take an electrical charge. This will alter the aluminum by making the oxide layer thicker giving it more strength (harder), and less likely to corrode.
I love hard anodized aluminum pans because they have great heat conductivity, not as good as copper but better than stainless steel. They are extremely hard compared to aluminum (twice as hard as stainless steel) and will hold up better when tossed around both on the stove and in your cabinets.
They perform well by conducting heat evenly and quickly but not as fast as pure aluminum. And they are very easy to maintain. One of my first purchases of cookware when I started teaching myself to cook over 25 years ago were anodized aluminum pots and pans. I still have them although I'm slowly in the process of replacing them as they are starting to warp.
The problem today with anodized aluminum pans, in my opinion, is they are all nonstick. I have not been able to find a brand that sells these pans NOT nonstick. As mentioned above, I want my some of my foods to stick to the pan so I can make great pan sauces.
I don't know that much about pure aluminum pans but I just found a source that sells mostly to restaurants and I purchased a couple of their pans to try out. I know they are great conductors of heat, are much cheaper than stainless and copper and used in most professional restaurants.
The biggest problem with pure aluminum pans is they react with acidic foods and there is a possibility the aluminum can leach into the food. There is a lot of research on both sides of this issue and I urge you to do your homework before purchasing any pan of any material. I'll leave it at that.
I just purchased this very cool Vollrath 3 Quart Saute Pan from an online restaurant supply store that I'm loving. It has 3-ply construction with an 18-8 stainless interior and and aluminum core to provide even heat on the bottom of the pan and side walls. With a silicone coated handle that is oven safe to 450°F, it feels great in my hand, I can't wait to see how it performs.
Another blend is copper with stainless steel and I'm sure there are others. Depending on your budget and cooking needs, there's something for everyone.
The best pan for making this dish is the one you have in your kitchen cabinet. I think you'll do better if you use a pan that is not nonstick but if all you have are nonstick, don't let that stop you from making this veal Marsala perfected. If you plan to make a lot more pan sauces in the future, you may want to think about purchasing one of the pans I described above.
The Quick & Easy Version of Veal Marsala
If you are already proficient in the kitchen or are not that particular about the details, here's Chef Ricco's Veal Marsala Recipe with no explanations. They are really easy to follow and will produce an amazing dish for 2 people. Of course, if you want to serve more, just adjust the recipe for 4 or more people.
You can find veal already already scallopini style which means pounded thin into quick cooking servings but if you can't, you can purchase veal cutlets and pound them yourself with a meat pounder or the bottom of a heavy cooking pan.
Ricco likes to cook the mushrooms separately from the sauce and serve them as a garnish when platting or add them to saucepan right before serving.
Simplified Veal Marsala Recipe
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
¼ pound mushrooms - cleaned and thinly sliced
6 veal scallopini cutlets - depending on cutlet size or your appetite.
1 medium shallot, minced
1 sprig of thyme, finely chopped
salt & pepper, to taste
¼ cup Marsala wine
¼ cup demi glace
Prep the veal if necessary so you end up with 6 thin scallopini styled cutlets.
Before you start cooking the veal, prep the mushrooms and saute in 1 tablespoon of butter until just tender. Transfer to a plate and reserve.
Heat a frying pan large enough to cook all 6 cutlets over medium-high heat. If you don't have a pan big enough to accommodate all 6, cook the cutlets in batches of 3.
Add the oil & 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan.
While the butter melts and the oil heats up, dredge each cutlet in seasoned flour. Be sure to shake off all excess or the flour will burn and stick to the pan.
Pan fry the cutlets for approximately 1 minute per side. Transfer the veal to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Discard remaining oil in the pan and reduce heat to medium.
Add shallot, thyme, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Remember to keep stirring so nothing burns.
Add Marsala wine and reduce by half.
Add demi glace, stir and cook until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. At this time I like to add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan. It's called mounting and helps "finish" the sauce.
At this time, I may add the previously cooked mushrooms back to the pan to reheat in the sauce or I may just add them to the top of veal as a garnish. You decide.
Taste and correct seasonings with salt & pepper.
Transfer the cooked veal cutlets back to the pan to reheat before serving. I like to spoon the sauce over the cutlets at this time while they are heating up.
Serve with pasta or rice and a favorite vegetable side dish.
photo credit: Ralph Daily