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Chicken saltimbocca

Updated: Wed, 21 July, 2021

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!

chicken saltimbocca

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.

chicken with Parma ham and sage

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 escalopes 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!

chicken alla saltimbocca

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.

how to prepare chicken fillets for saltimbocca

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!

chicken with prosciutto alla saltimbocca

More Italian main course recipes

Oven baked fresh sardine fillets with herbs, garlic and lemon, Italian style. Sandwiched in pairs, they only take 13 minutes to cook.

Pancetta wrapped meatloaf with a maple syrup and mustard glaze. Use pork and beef and plenty of fillers so it keeps its shape and slices well!

Osso buco recipe, or how to cook a shin of veal. Osso buco is a cross cut veal shin, you sometimes get beef osso buco but it's not as nice. My osso buco is cooked very slow in a sauce with dried porcini and tomato passata.

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.

chicken fillet alla saltimbocca

Chicken saltimbocca

Servings: 2Time: 30 minutes


  • one very large or two small chicken breast fillets
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh sage
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 4 slices of Parma ham or prosciutto
  • oil and 1 tsp butter for frying



1. Remove the skin from the chicken fillets (insert a knife anywhere underneath it and just pull it away). If you’re using one large chicken fillet, lay it on the board removed skin side down and slice it horizontally as evenly as possible. Keep it cut side up and score it in a diagonal pattern with a sharp knife, it will help the sage and ham stick to it better.

scoring chicken fillets

2. Do the same if you're cooking two fillets: place them skin side down, flatten a little with your hand and score the flesh.

3. Season this side with salt and pepper, scatter over some sage leaves, sprinkle with most of the Parmesan and place the prosciutto slices on top to cover the whole fillet with a slight overhang.

4. Cover the whole thing with a sheet of cling film and flatten evenly with a mallet until about half an inch thick. Turn the fillets over with the cling film, season this side with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Fold overhanging bits of prosciutto over the chicken and press to stick. Chill up to several hours if preparing in advance.

chicken fillets saltimbocca ready to cook

5. Heat the oil in a frying pan large enough to contain the fillets.

6. Peel them carefully off the cling film and place in the pan, ham side down. Fry for about 3 minutes over medium heat until the ham crispens and the edges of the chicken start turning opaque. Turn over, add a knob of butter and fry for another 2-3 minutes on the other side. You can fry remaining sage leaves alongside the saltimbocca until crisp.

how to cook chicken saltimbocca

7. Remove the saltimboccas onto warm plates, scatter the fried sage and serve with fresh salad.

Originally published: Fri, 2 January, 2015

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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