Chicken Madeira

From The City Tavern Cookbook: Recipes from the Birthplace of American Cuisine 
© 2009 by Walter Staib

The island of Madeira’s location, 400 miles off Portugal’s coast in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, made it a popular hub in colonial trade routes. The diplomatic alliance between England and Portugal, Madeira’s ruling nation, is the oldest in the world, dating back to the Middle Ages and strengthened over the centuries by sporadic royal marriages. Consequently, Madeira wine, which was originally stocked in the ships’ holds for ballast, could be purchased tax-free in the colonies, making it a relatively inexpensive alternative to unpotable drinking water. It was consumed in surprisingly large quantities and was used frequently in sweet and savory recipes.

Overnight preparation recommended.

Serves 6

  • 6 (6- to 8-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 1/2 cups Rainwater-style Madeira
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 bunch fresh basil, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sliced button mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, such as Burgundy
  • 2 cups Demi-Glace

In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, 1 cup of the Madeira, the oil, basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, garlic, shallots, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator at least 6 hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off any excess.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the chicken breasts. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until browned. Add the mushrooms and sauté about 2 minutes, until golden. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of Madeira and the wine to deglaze the pan, loosening any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook for 3 minutes, until the sauce reduces slightly.

Stir in the demi-glace and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until reduced and thickened.

Chef’s Note
The unique process that makes Madeira so flavorful involves heating and aging in oak casks, as well as the addition of brandy. Madeira ranges in flavor from dry, pale, and crisp, to full-bodied and very fruity. For cooking purposes, I prefer Rainwater Madeira, a soft, medium-dry Verdelho-style Madeira that has undergone a clarifying process to create a more golden color.