Chicken saltimbocca is a delightful Italian dish of chicken fillet layered with sage and Parma ham, which is also ridiculously easy. It jumps into your mouth!
Italian food names
I absolutely adore Italians for giving such descriptively spot-on names to foods and dishes, and some are hilariously funny.
Calzone, which is of course a type of pizza folded in half, means ‘trousers’ leg’. They have cat’s tongues to dunk in their espresso: delicious little biscuits called lingue di gatto.
Roman supplì al telefono – surprises on the telephone – are deep fried rice balls, outside Rome known as arancini. They are filled with mozzarella which hangs in a long string like the telephone cord when you bite into a supplì.
And of course (of course!) they have chocolate truffles called Venus' nipples: capezzoli di Venere.
Stinco di maiale is ham hock (stinco meaning ‘shin’) and it just sounds hilarious.
And let’s not even start on some pasta names: large thin pasta squares are aptly named fazzoletti (handkerchiefs). Strozzapreti mean ‘priest stranglers’, God and Italians only know why; perhaps because there was a priest so greedy and eating it so fast they choked?
And puttanesca – slut’s pasta – always makes me grin.
What does ‘saltimbocca’ mean?
Saltimbocca means ‘jump in the mouth’, because it is a dish so tasty, it literally jumps into your mouth.
Classically made with veal escallops hammered down thin, adorned with a slice of dry cured ham and a single sage leaf, they are served with marsala or vin santo sauce.
Veal or chicken?
Although veal is the traditional meat that ‘jumps’, chicken fillets cooked this way is not unusual. I prefer to go for chicken, personally, because such a lovely way of cooking enlivens boring chicken fillets no end.
The sweet marsala sauce might be delicious, but my version is sauceless. Thanks to that, the lovely, crisp ham does not turn soggy in the sauce. I do love it with a dollop of mayonnaise though!
Impressive and yet easy
This is one of those dishes that look like you slaved in the kitchen all afternoon and possess considerable cooking skills. It couldn't be further from truth: it takes all of ten minutes or thereabouts to prepare the chicken (my recipe timing here is on the generous side).
It can be made ahead and sit in the fridge for several hours, if you’re planning to make it a dinner party centrepiece.
How to prepare chicken saltimbocca?
Admittedly, using individual small chicken breasts will be easier than having to horizontally slice a fillet in two.
Place them flat, skinned side down, on a chopping board and score the meat lightly – that will help the sage, Parmesan and ham stick to it. By no means it must be expensive Parma: any prosciutto crudo, continental cured ham in thin slices will do.
When the fillets are covered with the ham, hammer them down with a mallet or a rolling pin. That will result in flattening the fillets to even thickness and fuse the topping into the meat.
It’s a good trick to cover the chicken with the ham slightly overhanging; when turned over, you can fold it around the fillet to neaten it up. Give the edges a tap with a mallet on this side too, so the ham doesn’t unfurl.
Frying doesn’t take long at all: five minutes on the ham side and about three on the other. Slide from the pan and serve the crisp, bronzed ham side up – and see if it doesn’t jump!
More chicken recipes
If you’re more a thigh than breast person, consider chicken under a skillet. It’s my version of ‘chicken under a brick’ recipe, made easier and less fussy.
If you’re keen on chicken in breadcrumbs, check out crispy fried chicken.
And a chicken tray bake with vegetables, a one pan dinner, is super easy and healthy too.