I love trying new restaurants as often as my bank account will allow, but my parents’ approach to dining out has always been to find one or two favorite places and stick with them. When I was growing up, their place was a charming and homey Italian restaurant with the best fried zucchini I’ve ever tasted called Tonelli’s. We were heartbroken when the owners decided to retire ten years ago. Unable to convince any family members to take it over, they decided to sell the property. The restaurant was permanently closed, torn down, and turned into a Walgreen’s. I don’t think I properly appreciated Tonelli’s growing up; I mean, always ordering the kids’ cheeseburger at an Italian restaurant? Come on younger me. I’m sure it was even more frustrating to my parents because I’d order my kids’ cheeseburger and eat all of their food rather than just ordering an Italian dish myself. And while the kids’ cheeseburger was admittedly pretty good, the dishes that stand out to me looking back are the ones I swindled off my parents’ plates. My favorite dish to swipe was my mom’s go to dish, Chicken Francaise.
Years later, I bonded with my college roommate after I learned that she was one of the only people who loved food as much as I did. Naturally, we talked all about our favorite dishes. She was astounded when she mentioned Chicken French and I had no idea what she was talking about. She told me it was a chicken dish on every Italian menu, as ubiquitous as Chicken Parm, but I had never heard of it. We argued about this particular dish for months until one day when I translated it in my head and shouted something along the lines of “oh my god, Chicken Francaise!” By this point I hadn’t thought about Tonelli’s in years, probably still repressing my dismay that it had closed. But suddenly, the memory of that buttery, lemony, tart sauce and light breading that’s kind of soggy but in the best way came flooding into my mind. Chicken Francaise does in fact seem to be on every Italian menu in New York, but for some reason you have to hunt a bit more in the Midwest and West Coast.
After reading up on it a bit, it seems that the name Chicken French is unique to Rochester, New York, my college roommate’s hometown, while Chicken Francaise is its better known name. In fact, many recipes for Chicken French specify “Rochester Style Chicken French.” Comparing recipes, they seem to be almost identical but Chicken French has parmesan cheese added to the egg mixture, while Chicken Francaise does not. Neither seems to be a traditional Italian recipe, as both are described as having Italian-American origins. The other day I decided to try my hand at it and went with Rachael Ray’s Chicken Francaise recipe.
Chicken Francaise is thin chicken cutlets lightly breaded in flour and an egg mixture (no bread crumbs here) in a white wine, butter, and lemon sauce. It’s very similar to Chicken Picatta, only the flour coating is done slightly differently and Chicken Picatta adds capers. In my opinion, Chicken Francaise is better. This recipe is really simple and easy, and like many great recipes, the key is using lots of butter. Something about the egg coating sizzling away in the butter made my kitchen smell like French Toast. In fact, I wonder if there’s a connection between the two with such similar names and cooking techniques. The sauce is made from relatively few ingredients, just lemon, stock, wine, garlic, and butter, but those are pretty much all of the best ingredients so how could it not taste good? Some lemon and parsley on top give this dish the perfect freshness to balance out the butter heavy sauce. Chicken Francaise is a great dish that can be thrown together with mostly kitchen staples to impress guests or brighten up a weekday.