thursday night smackdown: nashville tn. is in the goddamn house

i was going to say the ‘fuckin’ house’ but i’m still not bold enough to slip that into the title.

ok, so… i know, i know, it’s a bit of of a let down. you come looking for michelle and you get me. i’m incredibly sorry in advance but i’m only apologizing once. so suck it up and read on, my fellow TNS admirers, because we’ve got a smackdown to tend to.

i think michelle and i would agree that if we had to make an on-the-spot-gun-at-our-head decision declaring the one and only cuisine that we would eat for the rest of our lives, bar none, it would be italian. sure, we’d miss the occasional thai and indian dinner, but to live without italian food? too cruel…

so to honor our undying love for both the country and its culinary bounty that italy so rightly boasts, i bring to you a recipe from marcella hazan, the godmother of italian cooking in america. what julia child did for french food in this country, similarly, marcella did for italian – but with a lower pitched voice.

some trivia about marcella: 1. she married an american jew (because jewish men let their wives have maids), 2. she smokes marlboro lights and drinks shots of jack daniels (made just outside of nashville) and 3. she could be a real bitch, and was known for being impatient and judgmental BUT was usually right. which i can totally relate to.

one of the reasons i love italian cooking is that you can usually count the ingredients on one hand, and at the most two – which i suppose is good because THERE IS NO OTHER HAND. (anyone? fiddler on the roof? nevermind…) in the smackdown forum, i found this to be problematic because michelle’s smackdowns are usually “involved” and i didn’t want to look like too much of a slouch. this recipe lists 10 ingredients (perfecto) if you count the salt, pepper, toothpicks and warm serving platter. THEY’RE ON THE LIST. I SWEAR. page 234 of ‘marcella says…’

chicken breasts saltimbocca style
aka saltimbocca di petti di pollo
marcella hazan from marcella says

2 whole chicken breasts
1 dozen very thin slices of pancetta
18-20 medium sage leaves
fine sea salt
black pepper ground from the mill
uncolored wooden toothpicks

3 T butter
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 cup soft dry wine
a warm serving platter

cooks note: this was by far the most involved explanation regarding cutting chicken breasts known to man and it made me really fucking agitated just reading it. even a bit angry. at marcella. which is irrational. i know, but sometimes i think bad thoughts.

1. if the breasts are on the bone, gently work them off the bone, using a very sharp paring knife. pull off and discard the yellow outer layer of skin and the thin, membrane-like layer beneath. pick off any bits of fat.


fuck a bunch of boning chicken breasts. i bought my breasts whole and boned. kind of like my own.

2. each breast is composed of two muscles, one large and the other smaller, that partly overlap. seperate them to obtain 4 individual pieces. protruding slightly from the smaller tapered pieces you will find the tip of a white tendon that you must pull out. it is slippery, so use a paper or cloth towel to grasp it. with the other hand, press the flat side of a knife blade against the muscle at the place where the tendon protrudes, angling the blade to keep it’s edge from cutting off the tendon’s tip. while pressing firmly with the knife, pull the tendon away in one piece and discard. pound the muscle gently with a meat pounder or the flat of a heavy blade or other suitable tool to flatten it slightly. repeat the procedure with the other smaller muscle.


i’m already lost


but earnestly trying

3. take up the larger muscle, placing the side that lay next to the bone facedown on the cutting board. hold it in place with the palm of one hand. take a sharp, thin-bladed slicing knife in the other hand and, keeping the blade parallel to the cutting board, slice the breast horizontally from edge to edge to divide it into 2 equal slices, half of its original thickness. repeat the procedure with the other large muscle. repeat with the other whole breast. out of each whole breast, you should now have 6 fillets ready for quick cooking, or a total of 12 pieces in all.


by now the directions are nothing but fucked up noise and i have 16 pieces, not 12 – plus a pile of meaty scraps.

AHEAD-OF-TIME NOTE: you can cut the breasts into the pieces as described above several hours or even a day or two in advance. wrap in plastic film before refrigerating.

gee marcella, thanks for the note because i could really use a bonafide vacation after boning and slicing and flattening via pounding to your exact specifications. not to mention reading the above 3 steps eleventybillion times because i was petrified to make one badly angled cut which would then destroy my entire life dinner. marcella, do you believe in photographs? i do. you know why? because a picture is worth 316 words. i counted.


the chicken. aware, fearful and submissive.

4. take one of the larger pieces, cover it with sliced pancetta, 3 or 4 sage leaves, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top it, sandwich style, with one fo the remaining large fillets. fasten the edges of the “sandwich” closed with a couple of toothpicks. repeat the procedure, using the remaining fillets, pancetta, and all but a few of the sage leaves.


i dislike both candidates. but mccain scares the shit out of me.


after what the chicken put me through, it totally deserved this

5. put the butter, oil, and remaining sage leaves in a 12-inch skillet or saute pan and turn on the heat to high. when the butter foam begins to subside and the fat is hot, slip in the chicken-breast sandwiches. brown them quickly, first on one side, then on the other, then use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer them to a plate.


could it be a virtual butter halo sent from god?

marcella says: there may be nothing so easy to overcook as chicken breasts. their scant juices can vaporize in a flash. to preserve them, don’t let the meat linger in the pan.


misery loves company

6. pour the wine into the pan and let it bubble while you scarpe loose the cooking residues with a wooden spoon. when the wine has evaporated, return the chicken pieces to the pan, and turn them over quickly in the little bit of sauce in the pan, then transfer them to the warm serving platter and pour the pan juices over all. serve at once.

the chicken was excellent. better than i thought it would be. subtle, but the flavors were all there in every way that mattered. the breast meat was moist and had marcella not mentioned it, i probably would have left it in the pan while the wine sauce reduced, drying it out. i served it with broccolini and a squirt of lemon to cut some of the richness of the pancetta and butter. i would have preferred broccoli rabe but it was not to be found.

marcella hazan’s books are an invaluable resource for the italian home cook. in a recent article in the ny times, it mentions that at 84, marcella is beginning to slow down but is embarking on a short tour to promote her latest,book, a memoir entitled, ‘amarcord:marcella remembers’ if she’s coming to a city near you, i’d definitely head on over. the woman is a legend.

so to all you thursday night smackdown fans. consider yourselves smacked.

thanks michelle
feel better soon
we miss you

0 thoughts on “thursday night smackdown: nashville tn. is in the goddamn house

  1. I love Marcella. Her chocolate ice cream recipe is the most orgasmic thing I have ever put in my mouth…

    Oh yeah, and I get to meet her on Oct. 14th at a food event in Seattle. I hope you’re sufficiently jealous.

    Excellent smackery, Claudia.

  2. She is a great cook, but I agree that sometimes her recipes are convoluted. I think she (actually, her husband is the writer) likes to write them this way to demonstrate her superiority over the little people.

    Her bolognese recipe is a pain in the ass too.

  3. Marcella and her books are definitely classics. I have actually met her and Victor a few times as she lives in my town and we have a few mutual friends. We also shop at the same Italian specialty store. I wish I could say that they are lovely people, but both times I met them they were quite ungracious and kind of rude. Maybe they just didn’t like me?

  4. It looks lipsmackin good! Initially thought you were fucking up using skinless chicken but browning in butter with pancetta sandwiched in between was your salvation. loved those toothpicks with the little grip milled out on the end too!

  5. Claudia, that was an awesome post! And you channeled Michelle perfectly! Your bitching about the instructions was perfect :)

    I’ll have to get a Marcella cookbook.

  6. Michelle,
    OH, I mean Fret, (Geez, Michelle will let anyone drive.)

    Nice post for a stranger’s vehicle. I admire your admission of relating to the chef, although none of us would have brought it up if you hadn’t. From a Crackers point of view, all Yankees are like that. Kinda liked the recipe’s style, I do not see where concise and articulately detailed instructions rate such ridicule. Although, I use pliers, which just rip the tendons clean out. Some of us like to play with our meat (alot) before we show it to others. And you have to admit that on this recipe, the ingredients did not make the dish, it was all that meat handling.

    Overall I rate it a 9 on the sado-poultry scale. You garnered 2 points for not sedating the bird. As far as I’m concerned, you may return as host anytime Michelle loses her mind.

  7. To be fair, “Nashville, TN is in the motherfucking house” would be the proper iteration.

    Love the chicken, Claudia. Way to bail out Michelle. If she’d just follow my ganja/pain killers/chocolate milk regimen you’d never have gotten into this mess.

  8. Marcella is my Italian cooking hero. I have her book “Essentials of Italian Cooking” and it is THE best reference for authentic Italian recipes. Her recipe for eggplant parmesan took an entire day to make, but it was worth it.

  9. brittany – october 14th? question. does time travel hurt?

    lisa – cheap, cheap, cheap OR marcella was having a bad hair day.

    iamnotachef – i guess great cooks can get away with that kinda shit

    susan – it sucks when your hero’s act poorly…

    jack – i got the picks at an asian market. i love em..

    traci – big big shoes to fill…

    robert – truthfully, i could not follow those instructions. i found them poorly written. i love being told how to do things – but that was too much. gimme a damn photo or 2.

    heather – i count on you to be cool, unlike myself and set me straight so my daughter can think i’m not a total dork.

    tanya – i gotta own that one. i just have says and cooks or cucina or whatever that one is…

  10. Words of Wisdom? Intellect?… Oh, I’m f’ed (what can I say, mommy raised a good boy).

    Brittany, I’m a good boy, but you are REALLY tempting me!
    Lisa – Illustrations are overrated. Look what MTV did to music!
    iamnotachef – I think marcella’s recipes are somewhat vague, does that make me bigger than her?
    Susan – I came to learn about cooking after Marcella and Victor picked me up hitchhiking once, they took me in and fed me for 3 weeks, taught me all they know, and gave me money to start my own restaurant. Get new mutual friends!
    Jack – There is more than one way to skin a chicken
    Traci – I bitch at Claudia all the time… what goes in, must come out (that’s also why women don’t fart)
    Robert – She’s not relating… she’s bitchin’ (see above)
    Heather – you’re a bad girl
    Tanya – what is parmesan? Is that the sawdust in the green can? ; )
    Claudia – You can smack me anytime (AS I told you the last time, “I’ll give you an hour to stop that”)

    Love u all, and thanks for letting me smack you a little (all in good fun). Michelle, feel better soon…
    PS. Send more money!

  11. Excellent tomsmackery, Claudia!

    (Michelle,

    I shudder with joy to think of your next post containing search query captions. Witness:

    fuck a bunch of boning chicken breasts. i bought my breasts whole and boned. kind of like my own.

    Get well soon. There is a gaping hole in my soul where a shit-ton of irreverent wit used to be.)

  12. Damn you, Michelle. Now I have had to bookmark yet another damn blog on cooking because of your guest. I was doing fine, just FINE, until Varmint led me here, but you have totally blown the top off the pressure cooker with respect to my bookmarking blogs.

    Claudia, you forgot to put in the step where you drink a glass of that wine you insist on inundating the chicken with…probably about step 2b while you’re contemplating those felching tendons…

  13. What a beautiful dish, who knew it was so easy to elevate a pedestrian chicken breast into such an elegant little smackerel! Nice work, Claudia! Beautiful photos also.

  14. Claudia,

    Did you thieve those toothpicks from Cracker Barrel? I’ve *always* envied their toothpicks!

    Fuckin’ (from the South, here) fantastic post!

    Michelle is missed, but you stepped in beautifully!

    And after making Tom’s pumpkin ravioli with brown butter sauce last night (which I made ALL by myself), I’m feeling up to a challenge. I might just have to try this. I’m a champ with the butter now!

  15. i can recall feeling as if i grew ten culinary feet the first time i prepared marecella’s bolognese…then used it in her lasagne made with bechamel and spinach pasta….a revelation to say the least.

    nice looking breasts. don’t know if i’ve ever seen michelle’s

  16. even if it didn’t look amazing, you get an A for effort for even attempting all that chicken cutting mess. good job!

  17. Claudia:

    As Peter Boyle’s character, “Joe” said to the character played by Dennis Patrick, in the eponymous film of 1970–“Fuckin A!”.

    This site is now in my q, cue, kew, q—whatever.

    That chicken looks small enough to mail, send me some, please.

  18. Wow-

    You have Marcella Hazan, obscure fiddler on the roof and your rack referenced in a nice post here.

    Niiiiiiiiice.

    I liked this blog before and now I love it. Anywhere the word fuck is thrown around with such fervor I am a fan.

    Great post and I await michellez return..

  19. I was there, in Claudia’s kitchen for this smackdown. I brought the soft white wine. Oh yeah.
    It was so soft that I drank nearly the whole bottle.

    I did like this dish….I mean not quite as much as fried chicken. I am a southern girl after all. But it did cross my mind that you could roll these things in buttermilk and dip them in flour and fry them up. Hmmm….

    They were, however fine breasts….beautiful, butterful breasts.
    They were just as good the next morning, cold for breakfast. The sage kinda permeated the meat overnight. Made me think that they’d be nice sliced thinly across and made into sandwiches. A nice baguette, a little mayo and some more of that soft, white wine. A blanket under a tree whose leaves are slowly falling, late afternoon, early autumn. You and your love. Now, we’re tawkin’homemade goodtimes.

    I don’t know you Michelle, but I hope you are smackin’down for yourownself again soon!

  20. claudia, i knew i picked the right person for the job. nice breasts.

    new people, welcome! thanks for commenting. i hope it’s not a let-down when i get back.

    ETA: cause for concern?: the blog just sent MY OWN COMMENT to spam. like it’s trying to oust me. what the fuck? CLAUDIAAAAAA! [shaking fist]

  21. Wow. I can’t even imagine the flavor with the sage, pancetta and butter. I wouldn’t even cut the richness with lemon, but I’m crazy like that…what a smack down!

  22. michelle – it’s part of my plot to take over the entire blogosphere…

    and thanks to everyone for commenting. really really.

    i love you all.
    from the bottom of my harddrive
    now, please don’t vote for mccain, ok?

  23. I’ve already bought the chicken breasts and sage and am looking foward to tomorrow’s dinner. Who’s counting calories here. I was tasting it as I was reading. My kind of food.Thanks for another idea of a food we eat a lot.
    Are you glowing yet?

  24. Claudia, I love you but you need to get out more. Even WalMart and Krogers have chicken breasts that have already had the bones removed. So much stress, so little reason. ;)

  25. A new blogger on TNS! It would seem like blaspheme, but I did love this post. Now I have a new blog to stalk on top of it. Yay! (I think yay anyway).

    I’ve always loved making saltimbocca. The flavors are great and it’s easy to make (especially for us lazy shmoes who prefer to just buy our breasts already boned and skinned). I haven’t tried Marcella’s recipe, but it does look great. I actually confess I haven’t tried any of Marcella’s recipes.

  26. i’d had it at the 31st word! but the pictures were so good that i’ll skim, use the pictures and wing it..they look worth it. great shoe filling job!

  27. I love saltimbocca anything! I do veal all the time, but I have never done chicken. Our favorite Italian restaurant has it on the menu, but I always get the veal. I am always deconstructing when dining out.

    So…

    When you gonna guest on my blog?

  28. I’m a little late, but so f-ing be it. Great post, Claudia. I’ve made that recipe several times and loved it. Saltimbocca is a lot easier than the name implies. I LOVE marcella so much. I have got to get her new autobiography –have you seen it? I like the guest-posting idea too. Kind of like substitute teaching. But not so terrible.

  29. Michelle, is that you?

    Nice job, Claudia.

    I’m late to the party too, joy, ah well. I’ve been out of town. I like the idea of the chicken, but wrangling with the breasts like that… yeesh, are ya kiddin me?

  30. Pingback: chicken breasts saltimbocca style (saltimbocca di petti di pollo)

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