Friday, June 4, 2010

Scarpariello - Say What?

Chicken scarpariello. It's one of those seminal Little Italy dishes, or at least an Italian-American restaurant dish, no matter where the restaurant is. Except that the restaurant can't be in Italy, because I'm sure no one there has heard of it.

I think the first time I tried scarpariello, it was at one of the classic joints on Mulberry St. Maybe at Benito 1...or was it Benito 2? Maybe it was at Luna, some late night after one too many drinks out - but now that I think of it, was there even a restaurant called Luna? Could be I wasn't even in Little Italy. So forget about where I first tasted scarpariello - suffice to say, it stuck in my memory and for years I'd wanted to make it just the way I had it that night...wherever the hell it might have been.

So I looked through a couple of my Italian cookbooks to find a recipe. No such luck because it's not really an Italian dish, so there. I thought it might be found in my copy of Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook, but it's not in there. Fortunately (so I'm told), we've got the internet. Use your google and BAM...instant 1,000,000 scarpariello recipes. That's a lot of recipes, and having just taken a glance at 10 of them, most of them don't look like what I want - not at all. Skinless, boneless breast - no thanks, Rachael. Recipes without hot, pickled cherry peppers; actually, no peppers of the vegetable variety at all - please, Carmine's.

In my mind, scarpariello has to have certain ingredients in it, no matter what. And those would be chicken on the bone, white wine, chicken stock, bell peppers, cherry peppers and their juice, onion, garlic and parsley. Anything else is improv and though there's nothing wrong with that, I'd be staying away from potatoes and mushrooms (make 'em a side dish) and sausage as well - it just gets in the way of the chicken.

In the version I recently made, which Significant Eater loved, the addition of a few chopped tomatoes that I had on the counter almost moved it to cacciatore country, but not quite. As mentioned before (and if you start listening, your chicken dishes will be better), get a good chicken or the dish will suck. Thighs and leg/thigh quarters are quite acceptable, and you'll run less of a risk of overcooking by using the dark meat. Reheats great, too - as opposed to the breast, which can tend to dry out.

Often, I'll hack the chicken up with my Chinese cleaver. Into small pieces - cut the thigh/leg into 4 or 5 pieces, say. But I was lazy, and I basically cut a whole bird up into 2 breast halves, 2 thighs, 2 legs and 2 wings. And it was fine. First, salt & pepper and then brown that chicken well in the oil - but you already knew that...

Remove browned chicken to a plate and add your cut up peppers, onions, garlic, etc. to the skillet. Let 'em soften and then add the wine and reduce it down. Now, add your stock (or water) and pepper juice, bring it to a boil and you'll have this...

Once it's boiling, add back the chicken pieces, turn the heat to a simmer, cover and let cook, turning the chicken pieces every 10 minutes or so...

Total cooking time shouldn't be more than 25 - 30 minutes, and here's a soon as the breast is cooked through, after about 15 minutes, take it out and let the dish finish cooking without it - that way, you're assured of not overcooking. Take off the cover and let the sauce thicken a bit before adding back the breast pieces. Taste for seasoning - and if you like it more tangy, add a few squeezes of'll be glad you did. Here's what the finished dish looked like...

Not bad for a guy that can't remember when or where I first tasted chicken scarpariello. I'll bet you can't, either. But now you can go make your own.

Mitch's Scarpariello

1 - 3 lb. chicken, cut up into 8 -12 pieces, or just legs and thighs
3 T olive oil
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
3 - 6 hot pickled cherry peppers, seeds removed and sliced -add juice to stock
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup chicken stock (or water)
2 T chopped parsley
Lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

Method above.


  1. Hi,

    I've been enjoying your blog. Your bird is looking less browned than I make it for my braises, which, in my experience, makes for limp and unappealing skin in the finished product. Do you have an opinion on this subject?

  2. Yes, make it as brown as you can! I was probably rushing thru with the one above.

    RE: skin, I find that no matter how brown you get the skin prior to a covered braise, the result comes out limp and unappealing due to its cooking environment.

    IIRC, Cook's Illustrated recently had an article on just this subject - Limp and unappealing skin in covered braises," it might've been called. Then they proceeded to come up with a method to fix the problem, which amounted to something like an uncovered braise in the oven. I'll see if I can find the issue.

  3. Personally, I like the skin as long as I do a good job of browning it well -- without burning it. I suppose you could carefully dry only the exposed skin side a few different ways, but I've never bothered.

    One of my favorite preparations of late involves a whole cup of red wine vinegar -- something I stole from Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking. Talk about tangy! I was a little afraid at first, but after you swirl in a few tablespoons of butter at the end, it comes together beautifully. I do mine with only thighs, because IMO, you can't beat 'em. Let me know if you want the recipe.

    Later, -SB

  4. 3T EV olive oil
    4T unsalted butter
    1 chicken cut into 8 pieces, at room temp. (I use 9 thighs)
    1 cup good red wine vinegar
    2 medium tomatoes; cored, skinned, seeded and chopped
    3/4 cup good chicken stock
    3T chopped parsely

    Brown salted/peppered chicken in oil and 1T butter.
    Remove chicken, pour off fat, and add vinegar (slowly, and once pan has cooled a bit, so as not to kill everyone in the room).
    Reduce by about half, turning chicken a few times.
    Add tomatoes and stock, and cook until chicken is done (shouldn't take more than 20-30 minutes.
    Remove chicken to platter, swirl in rest of butter, and pour over chicken.
    Garnish with parsley.

    Serve with a gratin dauphinois or good crusty bread (to sop up the goodness).

    Enjoy! -SB

  5. Sounds great, SB. And I really like the thighs best of all (well, wings ain't bad).

  6. One of Jeff's all time favorite dishes.. Haven't made it in years.
    Hmmm...I've got a bunny in the fridge, maybe bunny scarpariello?
    Scarpa, scarpetto, scarpariello...all riffs on the same word, means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread. Yum.

  7. That dish doesn't look like chicken scarpariello at all.
    Mulberry St has the best... Your dish looks like a stew

    1. Yes, Mulberry St. has the best...Chinese food, you fool.