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Understanding Marsala Sauce and the Recipe for Veal Marsala

What is a good recipe for Marsala Sauce? I've had it in a restaurant lately with veal and sliced mushrooms and it was out of this world — unfortunately the chef considered it a secret recipe. So I need your help. The sauce was hazelnut in color, creamy and with the Marsala aroma and flavor.

The sauce traditionally served with Veal Marsala (Scaloppine di Vitello al Marsala) is very easy to make — basically a combination of Marsala wine and the butter, meat juices, and browned residue left in the pan from cooking the veal, reduced to the consistency of a sauce.

What are the variables here? The first is the wine itself. Marsala wine is made in Sicily, and like port and sherry, is a fortified wine. That is, brandy or another spirit has been added to boost the alcohol content to 17% to 18%. Marsala wines can be sweet, semisweet, or dry, and have been aged anywhere from one year to more than ten years. The rich, smoky flavor that characterizes Marsala wines becomes more pronounced as the wine ages, so the taste difference between a young wine and one that has aged for years will be significant.

Unless you have access to a remarkable wine merchant, however, you're not likely to have much more of a choice in Marsala wines than just dry or sweet. We have seen a number of Veal Marsala recipes, and there are some that call for sweet wine, but most of the real Italians specify dry wine, so we'd start there.

Now, what did your chef do to his sauce to make it secret and special? One thing is that he added mushrooms, which contributed to the dish itself, and their juices contributed to the sauce. They are not found in traditional recipes, however. Another variation involves adding a bit of cream to the sauce, which softens the assertiveness of the wine, but does not steal its flavor. Owing to the color you describe, we're guessing the sauce contained cream.

We've seen recipes that add lemon juice. Other recipes take the not-too-radical step of adding chopped parsley. But on the whole, there is very little in Marsala sauce to compete with the wine.

Here is Marcella Hazan's recipe for a traditional Veal Marsala. Do what you will with it. If you'd like to add mushrooms, slice them thinly and cook them in butter and oil in the same pan before cooking the veal. Remove them from the pan, proceed with the recipe as written, and add them in again when you add the veal to the sauce.


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