The Lost Italian: Capers give pork piccata its piquant tanginess
Lately I've been craving an Italian specialty called piccata, which is a light sauce made of lemon, butter, white wine, garlic and capers. In Italy, this sauce is traditionally served with veal, which can be hard to find in our regional stores. W...
Lately I've been craving an Italian specialty called piccata, which is a light sauce made of lemon, butter, white wine, garlic and capers. In Italy, this sauce is traditionally served with veal, which can be hard to find in our regional stores. We often substitute pork or chicken, which are widely available and more affordable than veal.
Last year Giovanni and I attended one of Tony's hands-on cooking classes at Sarello's, where we both learned how to create pork piccata. We couldn't believe how easy it was. The simple preparation of this dish belies its impressive style - piccata may be easy to make, but it definitely delivers in terms of flavor and presentation.
To begin, we sliced a tenderloin of pork into half-inch medallions, which we then placed between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat tenderizer (or meat mallet), we pounded the medallions into paper-thin cutlets, which are called scaloppini. The thinner the cutlets, the quicker they'll cook.
Some of the students wanted to know why we couldn't use the spiked side of the tenderizer. Tony explained that this is all about presentation: The spikes create holes in the meat and should only be used when the meat will be covered with a coating, like breadcrumbs. The flat side allows the meat to retain a smooth texture, creating an elegant effect when served with a finishing sauce.
I'll interrupt the instructions here to convey how happy this dish makes me. Not only is Piccata wonderfully tender, light and lemony, but it's great to make with kids as its one-pan nature means quick and easy cooking, and even easier clean-up. I also love its versatility - piccata goes well with a variety of proteins including pork, chicken, veal and seafood, especially flaky, white fish. We used to feature Walleye Piccata at Sarello's, and it was heavenly.
After pounding out the meat, we dredged the cutlets in flour, which helps to thicken the sauce later as they cook. Next, we sautéed the cutlets in a pan for about a minute on both sides, until lightly browned. I held the pan and supervised as Gio used a set of tongs to turn the cutlets. We then removed the meat and began to create the sauce, which is enhanced by the collection of little brown bits left in the pan.
These brown bits are incorporated into the sauce by a technique called de-glazing. We added the liquids to the pan, as well as the capers and seasoning, and deglazed the pan by cooking over medium heat until the liquid had reduced by half. Capers are essential to Piccata as they bring a piquant tanginess that defines this sauce.
Without capers, the sauce would be called "Limone."
We removed the pan from the heat and slowly stirred in the butter. Once the butter was melted, we brought the pork cutlets back into the pan and cooked over low heat for just a minute or so, until the sauce thickened a bit.
We transferred the cutlets to our serving plates, topped them with the remaining sauce and garnished the plate with freshly chopped parsley. The room smelled so amazing that we could hardly wait to try our creation - everyone loved their Piccata, even Gio, who normally shies away from anything with lemon flavor.
In Italy, this dish is considered a "Secondo Piatto" and would be served by itself following a pasta course; however, in America it is often paired with a long pasta noodle like linguine or spaghetti. Enjoy it as you wish!
Scaloppine of Pork Piccata
Serves: 2 to 4
1 to 1½ pounds pork tenderloin or pork loin, cut into ½-inch medallions, then pound into 1/8-inch thick cutlets (scaloppine-style)
2 cups flour for dredging
½ cup vegetable or olive oil
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock or water
½ cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (¼ cup), cubed
Dredge the pork in flour to coat and set aside. Using a sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat for about a minute. Sauté the pork in the hot oil on both sides until lightly browned, about a minute each side. Transfer the pork to a plate.
Add the wine, water/stock, lemon juice, capers and seasoning to the pan and cook over medium heat until reduced by half, about 3 to 5 minutes, scraping the browned bits of pork from the bottom of the pan. Remove pan from the heat and slowly stir in the butter.
Once the butter has melted, add the pork to the sauce and return the pan to the burner. Cook over low heat for approx. 1-2 minutes until a sauce-like consistency is achieved. Transfer the pork cutlets to serving plates or platter, and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish with freshly cut parsley, serve
- Generally, a whole pork tenderloin will yield about 8 cutlets. As a reference, a typical serving is 2 to 3 cutlets per person.
- This dish cooks very quickly, so have your other dishes ready to serve before starting the piccata.
- Pair with a long pasta noodle like linguine or spaghetti, and a green vegetable like broccolini or green beans.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com .