Skillet chicken with mozzarella and tomato. It’s a recipe mash up. Roast chicken meets pizza Margherita. It’s not on a menu anywhere but it should be. It’s that good. Chicken. Tomato. Cheese. What’s not to love?
The magic in this recipe is the layering of the flavours. Browning the chicken gets you a fond in the pan. Deglazing with marinara sauce gets that fond into the sauce. Roast chicken drippings in the sauce. Another layer. Fresh mozzarella melted into the dish. The jewel in the crown. A quick flash under the broiler. The final layer. Layer upon layer of just damn tasty.
Calabrian chilies add a bit of heat. Anchovy disappears into the sauce. Undetectable as an ingredient but an umami bomb. Don’t be scared of the anchovy. You will not taste it. Like a restaurant Caesar salad dressing. Have you ever sent one back because it tastes like fish?
This is my version of Melissa Clark’s pizza chicken. If you don’t know Melissa Clark look her up. New York Times. I’m a fan.
Skillet chicken with mozzarella and tomato is a family favourite waiting for you to discover it.
- 1 28 oz can of San Marzano whole tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 oz pork fat back, coarsely chopped (can substitute pancetta)
- 2 Tbsp finely diced onion
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- salt to taste (about a tsp, depending on how salty your tomatoes are)
- 1 3-4 lb good quality chicken cut into 10 pieces (halve the breasts) or a collection of chicken parts
- 1 anchovy, chopped
- 3 Calabrian chilies, chopped (or ½ tsp red chili flakes)
- 3-4 leaves basil, plus more for garnish
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella (fior di latte), cut into ¾" cubes
- Hand crush the tomatoes, removing the tough piece of core in each tomato (the stem end). You could just put them through a food mill but using your hands is fun.
- Heat the olive oil over medium low heat in a 3 quart pot or sauce pan.
- Add the fat back or pancetta and cook until the fat is rendered. If you use fat back, remove the rinds.
- Add the onions, regulating the heat so they turn translucent but do not brown. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook another 30 seconds.
- Pour in the crushed tomatoes, add the salt and simmer for about half an hour. You can cut back on the simmering time if you are in a rush. The sauce continues to cook with the chicken.
- Preheat your oven to 400F.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet (12 inches is about right).
- Brown the chicken well. Take your time. 10 minutes is about right.
- Remove the chicken and spoon off all but about 1 Tbsp of the fat in the pan.
- Add the Calabrian chili and anchovy and cook briefly.
- Add about a ½ cup of the marinara sauce and scrape up all the brown bits (it's called a fond) in the bottom of the pan.
- Mix in the remaining marinara, add the basil and bring to a simmer.
- Top with the chicken. Try to keep the browned skin above the surface of the marinara to keep it crisp in the oven. Cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of about 165F, around 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. If the sauce is overly runny, remove the chicken and simmer the sauce briefly to thicken.
- Set your oven up to broil.
- Return the chicken to the pan and sprinkle chunks of mozzarella overtop and place under the broiler to melt the cheese.
- Garnish with a bit of shredded basil.
- Serve with a bit of gnocchi if you want a starch. Rapini makes a nice vegetable complement if you want a vegetable on the plate.