Bye bye boring chicken breasts! This Chicken Lombardy recipe makes a marvelous, memorable meal with just a few ingredients and a bit of Marsala magic.
What do Italy and Wisconsin have in common?
If you said, “nothing,” you wouldn’t be completely wrong. Aside from a love of curdled milk products, there’s not much, but, as it turns out, they both claim a connection to a tantalizing take on the ubiquitous chicken breast: Chicken Lombardy.
It’s a delicious and impressive main course that’s doable even on a weeknight.
Pan-fried chicken breasts, layered with butter-basted mushrooms and cheese, get baked with a Marsala-infused sauce. The flavors make it taste like this dish is much more trouble than it actually is, and that’s my favorite kind of recipe!
The origins of the Chicken Lombardy recipe aren’t definitive, but one story says it was created in Wisconsin as an homage to the late Green Bay Packers’ head coach Vince Lombardi. The recipe was published in a local cookbook there and eventually by Better Homes and Gardens.
Another possibility is Chicken Lombardy hails from Italy’s Lombard region, known for its meat-heavy and butter-based recipes rather than traditional ingredients like tomatoes and olive oil. Perhaps it was a combination of the two, a concoction by some devoted cheese head inspired by an Italian vacation.
Regardless, it’s an elegant dish with complex flavors that will make you care less about where the recipe came from and more about whether you have everything you need to make it tonight!
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So what is Chicken Lombardy?
It’s similar to chicken Marsala – lightly breaded chicken, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, nestled in a rich pan sauce with sautéed mushrooms. The differences are the addition of gooey mozzarella and the Chicken Lombardy casserole-dish time it spends in the oven getting everything warm and bubbly.
If you’ve tried the Chicken Lombardy Olive Garden serves, you’ll notice several differences between it and other recipes. The chicken Lombardy Olive Garden recipe makes a bread crumb-coated chicken breast, draped in a smoky mozzarella sauce dotted with bacon.
Tasty, of course, but it’s missing the amazing pan sauce this internet-star-of-a-recipe relies on to make it a really sophisticated entrée.
There are lots of recipes for Chicken Lombardy (though a “chicken Lombardy” Food Network search comes up empty).
You’ll find variations by Southern Living and Epicurious, a chicken Lombardy 77 Easy Recipes version (though it’s missing a key ingredient, more on that in a minute), and tons of touting on pretty much every food blog.
As usual, I craft the best version I can, picking and choosing techniques and ingredients from the resources I find, and, well, mine’s the best! (in my humble opinion, of course!)
You start with chicken breasts, sliced horizontally for quick, even cooking (you can also substitute pre-sliced cutlets).
Rather than breadcrumbs, I dust the chicken with flour before pan frying. This gives it a light, crispy exterior with a silky texture and a thin spongy layer for soaking up the sauce.
Using butter instead of oil adds even more flavor to this delicate breading. I also use butter to sauté the mushrooms that complement the sauce with both texture and a deep, earthy flavor.
And it’s in the sauce where all the magic happens!
Pan sauces are a simple but unique way to ensure the caramelized brown bits from the bottom of your pan get incorporated into your dish. You don’t want to waste all that flavor!
Deglazing, pouring stock or other liquid into the hot pan, helps release all the fond so it can melt into the sauce, then you reduce the liquid a bit to thicken and concentrate the flavors.
To make the Chicken Lombardy pan sauce, you’ll use a combination of chicken stock and that key ingredient I mentioned is sadly missing from some recipes: Marsala.
Marsala is a fortified wine, basically wine with an additional distilled spirit like brandy.
It comes in dry and sweet varieties, and I use dry in this dish. The sweet version, as you might suspect, has added sugar and is used in Italian desserts like tiramisu.
The flavor difference is pretty subtle, though, so in a savory dish like this one, you can really use either.
Marsala has a unique flavor, generally associated with stewed apricots, and it provides a lovely aroma too that elevates this dish to fine dining.
A sprinkling of cheese and green onions (for both flavor and color) and Chicken Lombardy finishes in the oven while you finish the rest of your meal.
Whether you live in Wisconsin or are simply dreaming of Italy, when you think of special but easy recipes Chicken Lombardy should definitely be on your list!
Recipe Notes For Chicken Lombardy:
Serving suggestions – Now you just need to decide what to serve with Chicken Lombardy! Traditionally you’ll find this with angel hair or other long, thin pasta, but it also works over rice or mashed potatoes.
Slightly bitter winter veggies (broccoli or Brussels sprouts) or greens are a good option to balance the subtle sweetness of the sauce.
Butter – Yes, there’s over 1/3 cup of butter in this recipe, so don’t ask about Chicken Lombardy calories! I like to use unsalted, both to control the salt and because it’s such a forward flavor in this recipe that I prefer it to be as fresh as possible (salt is a preservative, so salted varieties may be a bit older).
You also want to watch the temperature when you’re cooking with butter. It will burn more easily than oil, so don’t try to rush the chicken browning step by cranking up the heat. Otherwise, you may ruin your chances for that perfect pan sauce!
Saucy stuff – The thickness of the sauce can vary a great deal based on the reduction temperature. If you thicken the sauce too much, add a bit more chicken broth or water for a slightly thinner consistency. If you find the sauce too thin after 10 minutes, just cook it a bit longer. You want it to be lightly coating a spoon when it’s all said and done.
Marsala substitute – Madeira is a common substitute for Marsala because they have similar flavors.
You can also substitute ¼ c. of dry white wine mixed with 1 tsp. of brandy (note you’ll need to triple this to yield enough for ¾ cup). If you’re worried about the alcohol content, rest assured that only 20 – 30 seconds of boiling will ensure the alcohol is evaporated.
If you need something non-alcoholic, though, you can substitute a mixture of ¼ c. white grape juice or non-alcoholic white wine, 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar (you’ll need to triple this as well).
Mushrooms – I always choose cremini when I can. They’re widely available, often pre-packaged and pre-sliced, and they add more flavor than button mushrooms. If for some reason you can’t find them, though, button mushrooms work just fine.
- 8 Ounces Cremini Mushrooms Trimmed and Sliced
- 2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- 4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
- 1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
- 1/3 Cup Unsalted Butter
- 3/4 Cup Marsala
- 3/4 Cup Chicken Broth
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 Teaspoon Pepper
- 1/4 Cup Green Onions Sliced
- 2 Cups Mozzarella Shredded
- 1-2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley Chopped
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a 9 X 13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
- In a large skillet add butter and cook the mushrooms on medium-high heat until tender, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Slice each chicken breast in half, horizontally, with a very sharp knife. Pat slices dry with paper towels to remove any moisture. Dredge each piece in flour, shaking off excess.
- Brown chicken in batches, so as not to crowd the pan, in 1-2 Tablespoons of remaining butter in skillet, over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes per side, until golden. Transfer browned chicken to the prepared baking dish, laying in a single layer. Repeat with remaining chicken. Arrange cooked mushrooms over chicken.
- Add marsala and chicken broth to skillet. Bring liquid to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle sauce evenly over chicken. Sprinkle green onions over chicken then top evenly with cheese.
- Bake uncovered, in preheated oven for 12-14 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
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