I lived off 29th Ave & Clement Street in San Francisco for three or so years. On the stretch of Clement between 26th & 22nd Aves reside some of San Francisco’s best neighborhood restaurants. Ernesto’s was one of my favorites. Everything I ever ate there was outstanding. Baked stuffed clams and sautéed calamari are excellent appetizers. The seafood pasta is a delicious dish: linguine with shrimp, scallops, garlic and green onions served with a butter-lemon sauce. Veal Saltimbocca, grilled veal chops, pizza, grilled swordfish, fettuccine alfredo … I can go on and on. If you’re lucky, the smoked chicken risotto and/or the filet mignon marsala may be on the list of daily specials.
The know-all, be-all of dishes at Ernesto’s is the Chicken Ernesto. Lightly sautéed chicken breasts smothered with a lemon-butter-wine mushroom sauce served with either the daily vegetable or a side of pasta. I live near Boston now, but I never stop thinking about Ernesto’s and all the great restaurants on Clement Street.
I tried for four years to reverse engineer this recipe since they would never tell me how to make it. I even considered getting a part-time job as a bus boy just so I could learn how it was done. I dropped that idea pretty quick. Eventually I got the recipe close enough to brag about it. As it turns out, it’s a lot like making veal or chicken piccata, just without the capers.
½ cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless chicken breasts, about ¾ pound, pounded to a thickness of ½-inch
1½ tablespoons light olive oil
2 packages of white mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and diced
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup chicken stock
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 lemon, juiced, or more to taste, (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf Italian parsley leaves
To pound the chicken thin, place one chicken breast in a large Zip-Lock bag, underskin/membrane side up and pound with the smooth side of a meat mallet. Don’t pound too hard because you can easily ruin the meat by breaking it all up.
In a shallow bowl or plate combine the flour, 1½ teaspoons of the salt and pepper and stir to combine thoroughly. Quickly dredge the pounded chicken in the seasoned flour mixture, shaking to remove any excess flour. That’s something I do differently. Ernesto’s doesn’t dredge the chicken in flour first. I like the taste and texture of a bit of crusted flour on sautéed chicken.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add 1½ tablespoons of the butter and, working quickly and in batches if necessary, cook the chicken until light golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a warm plate and set aside. increase the heat to high and sprinkle about two tablespoons of the seasoned flour into the oil and whisk rapidly till it’s dissolved. Add the wine and bring to a boil. De-glaze the pan with the wine by scraping to remove any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
When the wine has reduced by half, add the mushrooms, chicken stock, chopped garlic and lemon juice and cook for about five minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly. Whisk in the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, remaining 3½ tablespoons of butter and the chopped parsley. When the butter has melted, return the chicken to the pan and cook until heated through and the sauce has thickened, about 1 minute. Serve immediately. Yankees suck!