Sure, you've probably had chicken marsala once or twice at a restaurant. But can you remember the last time you ever cooked with Marsala wine? This fortified wine from Sicily is an underused ingredient and it's time to discover all it has to offer.
With these gourmet recipes you'll learn easy techniques for cooking with Marsala wine. Whether you'd like to whip up an Italian ricotta cheesecake, scrumptious chocolate cake or a succulent pork chop dinner, everything tastes better with a splash of Marsala. But first, here’s a sip of this superb ingredient’s backstory.
Marsala: Sicilian tradition brought to the world's attention by the British
Marsala is the first Italian wine to have received Protected Designation of Origin status, back in 1969. It is made from the white grape varieties Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto and Damaschino, among others. The source of its widespread recognition as a prized beverage can be traced back to one event in 1773. This year, an English trader was forced by a storm to come into port in Marsala, Sicily. Here, he sampled a local wine and liked it, so he bought a large quantity of it. To keep it from spoiling, he added alcohol to it, and the end result met with great success with the English. Marsala promptly went international and has been intertwined with English trade and tradition ever since.
Marsala wine is classified according to its colour, sweetness and how long it’s been aged. Its three levels of sweetness are categorised as secco, semisecco and sweet.
Here's what to cook with Marsala wine:
Pigeon on bruschetta and chanterelles
Mushrooms and Marsala wine are a heavenly pairing. This dynamic duo makes an appearance in this exquisite recipe from British chef Theo Randall which includes pancetta, Swiss chard, and chanterelles. If you can't find pigeon at your local market substitute with Cornish hens.
- Debone the pigeon then marinade in marsala wine, garlic and thyme for one hour.
- Clean and fry the chanterelles.
- Seal the pigeon on both sides, add the bruschetta and pancetta and bake in the oven for 4 minutes.
- Remove from the oven then cook the pigeon on top of the bruschetta for a further 3 minutes.
- Blanch the Swiss chard.
- Slice the pigeon and assemble the dish. Use the marinade to make a sauce and serve.
Pork chops with mushroom Marsala sauce
Forget veal or chicken marsala, instead use pork to give this classic dish a fresh twist. The aromatic sauce is flavoured with button mushrooms, garlic, meat stock and onions.
- Flatten the pork chops and cut in half.
- Fry the mushrooms.
- Season the meat and coat in flour before frying on both sides until golden brown.
- Deglaze the pan with Marsala and reduce slightly. Add some meat stock, garlic and onions.
- Return the mushrooms to the pan and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
You'll love this luxurious ricotta cheesecake made with double cream, sheep's milk ricotta, and crème fraîche. Marsala wine and raisins add a pleasant sweetness.
- Soak the raisins in Marsala.
- Add the sugar and flour to the ricotta and beat until smooth. Add the egg yolks, cream, Marsala, raisins and vanilla pods.
- Beat the egg whites with salt then fold in the ricotta mixture.
- Pour into a tin on top of a sweet pastry base and bake for about 50 minutes at 160˚C.
Soft chocolate cake
A spoon of this soft chocolate cake is enough to make you melt. The cherry on top is a heavenly mascarpone cream infused with Marsala wine and vanilla bean.
- Melt the chocolate over a bain marie.
- Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks with sugar.
- Whisk the whites in a separate bowl then add the remaining sugar.
- Mix the melted chocolate into the yolk mixture and stir in the remaining unwhipped cream.
- Fold in the whipped cream then the egg whites.
- Pour into the prepared tin and place in a bain marie to bake for 45 mins to 1 hour.
Most tiramisu recipes are served chilled but not this delicious version served with a delectable zabaglione - a rich sauce prepared with egg yolks, Marsala wine, and cocoa powder.
- In a serving glass, melt the soaked gelatine sheets in about ½ cm of coffee.
- Leave to cool until the coffee solidifies.
- Blend the lady fingers into a powder and add a thin layer to the glass.
- Whip the mascarpone with the cream and sugar and add a layer to the glass.
- For the zabaglione, add the caster sugar, egg yolks and Marsala and whip for about 15 mins over a bain marie until puffy.
- Add to the glass as a final layer and sprinkle with cocoa powder.
Read the full recipe for warm tiramisu.
Other recipes that use wines
While Marsala is an undeniably distinct ingredient, it by no means has the culinary wine market cornered. One versatile and well-known dish, coq-au-vin, does its name justice by using a wide range of wines, which vary from region to region: Riesling in Alsace, red Burgundy in the wine’s namesake region, and vin jaune in the Jura area, to give a few examples. But why stick with just one type of wine? If you are of the 'more is more' persuasion, you might like this recipe for beef rolls with a wine sauce that has both red and white Port wine, as well as an additional dosage of red.