Carrabba’s Marsala Sauce Recipe: A Unique Approach to Tradition

Written by Ona J Bass on . Posted in food

Carrabba’s marsala sauce recipe is one of the many excellent recipes available in the official Carrabba’s cookbook, Carrabba’s Italian Grill: Recipes from Around Our Kitchen Table. Carrabba’s Italian Grill is located in Houston, Texas where they take pride in being a family restaurant that specializes in excellent food at reasonable cost.

Marsala Chicken is an Italian Restaurant Staple

In the official Carrabba’s cook book, the Carrabba’s Marsala Chicken recipe introduction is quick to point out that chicken marsala is a staple recipe for any Italian restaurant. A few minutes with Wikipedia will reveal that certain types of recipes, because they are staples that are used in many areas, cannot be copyrighted.

What is Marsala Sauce?

There are a variety of chicken marsala recipes available online, so sorting out exactly what makes a chicken marsala, in general, or Carrabba’s Restaurant sauce might be a little confusing – especially to novice cooks.

Of course, if you are an experienced cook, you might be laughing behind your apron now because you probably have your own special chicken marsala recipe. No doubt your friends and family rave about it to others and beg for you to make it for every family gathering.

The Carrabba’s Difference

The thing that makes Carrabba’s chicken marsala sauce special is that the chicken is grilled, not pan fried, as is the usual custom for chicken marsala. This presents some challenges when compared to the traditional ways of making a marsala sauce, since the preparation usually involves the pan drippings from sautéing the chicken.

Carrabba’s solution to this is a special ingredient that is not frequently used in American cooking. More on that in just a minute. First, a look at the usual ingredients in a marsala sauce.

Essential Ingredients for Marsala Sauce

An essential ingredient for any marsala sauce is marsala wine. Marsala wine sauce begins as a grape wine, sweet or dry, that is produced in or around Marsala, Sicily. You can buy marsala cooking wine in most grocery stores, or you can order it online from cooking ingredient suppliers.

A dry marsala wine is usually used when preparing a sauce for beef or similarly heavy proteins. A medium marsala is advised for chicken or fish, while the sweet marsala is usually used when making desserts.

Marsala Wine

Sicily is an amazing country for growing grapes, and Marsala wines are well known around the world. The area is also well-known for olive oil, so it should come as no surprise that marsala chicken is usually fried in a combination of butter and olive oil, or just plain olive oil.

When selecting the wine for your sauce you should keep the properties of the Marsala wine in the forefront of your consideration. Not all Marsala wines are exactly the same.

They come in different grades and types.

Marsala is a fruity wine with overtones of apricot, vanilla, tamarind, brown sugar, and even tobacco. Different pressings will have slightly different flavors. Dry Marsala wines are often used to complement heavier meat dishes, such as steak, beef roast or turkey. Medium wines go well with chicken or fish. While the sweetest are used to top deserts, often providing a sauce for fruit dishes.

Some Marsala wines can be served as table wines as well as being used for cooking. They have a unique flavor that makes them a go well with hard-to-match vegetables such as asparagus. Like sherry, they can be used as a sipping wine

There are three main types of Marsala wine: gold, amber and ruby. The gold is the dry wine most commonly used in preparing sauces for meat dishes, the amber is ideal for lighter protein preparations such as chicken. The ruby is the sweetest, and teams well with fruit juice and fruit for sweet and sour preparations, or for dessert sauces.

Within these three main types, age, location, and vineyard also make a difference to flavor and appropriate use. Keep in mind also, if your “marsala” wine isn’t from Sicily, chances are it is an imitation.

Sauces and Gravies from Pan Drippings

The most common method for making a marsala sauce is to roll chicken or some other meat in a flour and herb mixture, then to sauté it until it is brown on both sides. Set the partially cooked meat to one side, then sauté mushrooms, onions or shallots in the seasoned oil.

When the vegetables are cooked until the oniony bits are transparent, add about a ¾ cup of marsala wine and ¾ cup of chicken broth. Cook until the mixture is reduced to about one cup of liquid, add the chicken back in, and let it finish cooking in the rich broth.

When the chicken is done, add a tablespoon of cornstarch to thicken the broth, creating a gravy that is full of mushrooms and bits of shallot or onion. You can even add complementary vegetables to the sauce, if you wish. The chicken is then served with the yummy sauce spooned over it.

Similar to Other Regional Traditions

Cooks who are familiar with southern fried chicken, biscuits and white gravy will, no doubt, at this point be saying, “Aha! I know that process!” Meat rolled in flour, then browned in fat, and finally simmered in a flavorful liquid, spans many cultures. The protein that is used, the seasonings and even the liquid that is used vary from location to location.

The choices owe a great deal to what is available locally.

In some areas, the liquid might simply be added water, in others the most available liquid might be milk. Often, a meat or vegetable broth is the preferred liquid. Around the Mediterranean, where grapes vineyards do very well, wine is frequently used as the liquid for cooking. For an authentic marsala sauce, the liquid must be marsala wine from Marsala, Sicily.

Owning the Sauce

Good restaurants and even good home cooks often have special quirks that take advantage of special ingredients and make those commonly served recipes uniquely their own. Which brings us to Carrabba’s marsala sauce ingredients, and how they make Carrabba’s marsala chicken stand out when compared to other marsala chicken recipes, including Carrabba’s copycat recipes.

The Carrabba Sauce Difference

There is one special ingredient in Carrabba’s marsala sauce that make it stand out from all similar sauces. Because the restaurant does not sauté their chicken, they do not use pan drippings from the chicken or other protein preparations. Instead, they use prosciutto as seasoning for the sauce. This lends a unique flavor to the marsala sauce, one that is not usually found when using the pan drippings as flavoring.

Prosciutto

Prosciutto is a dry cured, uncooked ham. It is made from the rear leg muscle of a hog, sprinkled with salt and herbs, then hung to be cured. That statement is an extreme over-simplification of a process takes several months as well as all the careful attention required to create a properly cured ham.

When the ham is completely cured it is then cut into slices. Since the Carrabba chicken or any other meat that will receive the sauce is grilled, its juices are not available to help create the sauce. Adding sliced prosciutto to the sauté mixture not only provides the meat flavor, it brings an element not found in traditional marsala sauce preparations.

Carrabba House Grill Recipes

The other two important parts of the Carrabba’s marsala chicken or steak preparations are their house grill baste and grill seasoning. These recipes are also included in the Carrabba’s cookbook. The grill baste is a tasty combination of red wine and herbs, while the grill seasoning includes granulated garlic and granulated onion, which are different from the flakes and powders customarily used as seasoning.

The combination of grilling instead of pan cooking and adding prosciutto to the herbs, spices and vegetables is what makes Carrabba’s restaurant sauce so special. As you will see in the directions below, they are just the beginning of what makes this dish unique.

How to Make Carrabba’s Marsala Sauce

The steps to making Carrabba’s Marsala sauce are similar to those for making traditional marsala sauce.

Ingredients:

  • Three Tablespoons of butter, unsalted
  • 2 ounces of prosciutto
  • Yellow onion
  • ¾ cup Low sodium chicken broth
  • White mushrooms
  • ¾ cup Dry marsala wine

Directions:

Warm 1 tablespoon butter in a large, heavy frying pan, then add the mushrooms. Sauté until brown. Add three tablespoons of finely chopped yellow onion, and two ounces of prosciutto – sliced, but not thinly sliced.

Cook the ingredients together until the onion is soft. Add 1 tablespoon white flour to the mixture, and blend it in well. Next, pour in ¾ cup dry marsala wine, and ¾ cup chicken broth. Simmer until the mixture is reduced to about one cup of liquid.

You can keep the sauce at room temperature for about 2 hours. It can be served over grilled chicken or it can be used as Carrabba’s steak marsala sauce.

Either way, you can count on it being delicious.

So where do the grill baste and the grill seasonings come in? At the grill, of course. They can be used to baste the chicken or steak, sprinkled on it, making sure that the meat is succulent and ready for the delicious sauce.

Possible Substitutions for Copycat Carrabba’s Marsala Sauce

There are parts of the world that might not have all the ingredients for an authentic Carrabba’s Marsala Sauce, even though they have generously made their recipe available by publishing their own cookbook. The two key ingredients that might be a stumbling block for a cook in a culinarily challenged area are the prosciutto and the marsala wine. In a world where refrigerated containers make shipping regional food possible, the cost might be prohibitive for some cooks.

Although it would impart a different sort of flavor, thinly sliced ham of any sort could be substituted for the prosciutto. Canadian bacon might also be an acceptable choice.

For the marsala wine, select a dry golden wine that is available in your region and that fits your budget. Dry cooking wines are available in many supermarkets throughout the United States, for example, at a modest cost. The resultant flavor might not be quite like marsala, but you should be able to create an acceptable result that works similarly to a marsala sauce.

These two substitutions would enable you to imitate the marsala sauce process made famous by the Italian restaurant located in Houston, Texas.

Carrabba’s marsala sauce recipe is a unique approach to a traditional recipe. By grilling the chicken, an added flavor element is introduced while reducing the amount of grease and oil that is inherent in pan frying the chicken.

The use of the thin sliced ham brings a new element to the blended flavors of chicken, wine, mushrooms, and spices. In addition to its intended use as a sauce to be served over grilled chicken or grilled steak, any leftover marsala sauce can be used in other creative ways, or you can simply make some to go in other recipes.

  1. Add ¼ cup marsala sauce to 1 pound of ground beef to add moisture and enliven the flavor
  2. Prepare the basic sauce, but instead of thickening it, use it to inject a roast or whole bird with some added flavor before cooking.
  3. Marinate a chuck steak or similar cut of meat overnight in the basic marsala sauce
  4. Add other fresh vegetables, besides mushrooms, to the simmering sauce to boost the nutrition and flavor of the broth as well as to give a unique flavor to the vegetables. Serve over a bed of rice.

Marsala sauce is amazing stuff.  Its unique flavors combined with local or regional methods of preparing the sauce will create a bright complement to many different sorts of food. With a little judicious experimentation, your copycat recipe – should you need to go that route – might bring equally tasty results. Who knows? Perhaps in a few years, your beautiful golden wine sauce might become famous.

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Ona J Bass

Ona J Bass

Ona Jo Bass grew up on a small farm in the middle of the United States. Food and farming are two things that go together. She learned how to harvest food and prepare simple meals from scratch. As a young woman, she discovered that you can’t always walk out the back door and pick a meal. Cooking from scratch helped stretch her budget and, after a few mistakes, she learned how to make tasty food from basic ingredients from the grocery store.

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