Cook’s Corner: Putting in a little personality into chicken Marsala

Belmont Country Club chef Dennis Matthew Roberts with his chicken marsala, potatoes and vegetables, which were served at the club’s New Year’s Eve dinner.

PERRYSBURG — Dennis Matthew Roberts has been head chef at Belmont Country Club for less than a month and already he has been thrown into the fire.

For a New Year’s Eve dinner, he and his staff gave members a choice between a 6-ounce char-grilled filet mignon with Bearnaise sauce, a 4-ounce lobster tail with roast tenderloin with a whiskey-peppercorn sauce, char-grilled Frenched rib lamb chops covered in a blackberry sauce, mustard-glazed chicken seabass with a lobster sauce, and chicken Marsala medallions with mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce.

Any of the five entrees sound too good to be true, but Roberts has proven that you do not need to travel to Cleveland’s historic Little Italy neighborhood to get the best chicken Marsala.

“Chicken Marsala is a classic dish from Italy that has been around a lot of different menus,” Roberts said. “Marsala wine is a very popular wine from the region, but there is also a sweet version and a dry version.

“Personal preferences really come into play, but it doesn’t affect the overall taste too much, but if you use additional items in the Marsala, like a porchetta you can add in or cream that will help change the flavor to the kind of meal that you know which way you are going with it.”

The recipe Roberts provided does not include all the little nuances he likes to add in. He leaves that up to personal preference — but here’s a little of what he likes to go with plus his description on how to prepare the popular Italian delicacy.

“We take the pounded chicken breast and then we dredge those in flour in a hot skillet, olive oil and sauté that with sliced mushrooms, flip those over, add in some shallots, a little bit of Marsala wine, get that going, and let it reduce,” Roberts said.

“We add a little bit of chicken stock in, get that to reduce, and we do have a demi-glace that we use, and then it’s just basically a combination of adding espagnole sauce and a darker bone rub and we use that to help fortify and build up the dish.”

Roberts took over Belmont’s head chef duties from longtime chef Kyle DeMars. You may have enjoyed Roberts’ cooking at the former Croy’s Supper Club in Perrysburg, where he started in 1988. His mentor, Larry Croy, passed away in 2018.

“Trust me, as a guy that worked there for 18 years, it definitely made an impact on me as a chef and continuing on the tradition that Larry Croy taught me,” Roberts said.

“He brought me up from the ground up, showed me how he had the chicken Marsala through his trainings, through his travels, and you know it really comes out of personal preference, but you must have that basic structure to live within. From there, you can play with it, and that is the best thing about cooking is play.”

Roberts is originally from Murray City, a village in Hocking County, but as a child traveled through Westerville and Findlay with his family because of his father’s job.

The family ended up in Perrysburg. Roberts graduated from Perrysburg High School and immediately began working for Croy.

“I graduated high school, came out and wasn’t mature enough for college, so I got a job. I lived right behind the supper club in Oakmont, and it was easy for me to get to at 18, so I got in,” Roberts said.

“Larry took me from a guy who was peeling potatoes and cleaning out chicken guts and things like that and showed me the finer points. I did the rudimentary work, the grunt work, and then through that we just slowly went on and refined what I was supposed to do.”

Chicken Marsala, while historically an Italian dish, today is considered to have some French and American influence, depending on the chef and ingredients.

From his beginnings at Croy’s, to a few stops in-between, Roberts loves his newest home at Belmont and the opportunities it brings to a chef cooking for a membership and events hosted by the club.

“It started at Croy’s, but this is always what I loved to do,” Roberts said. “Actually, I know a few of the members here. It’s just one of those things, and I love cooking, and the supper club was really the catapult for me and I’m going to continue it on.

“I love it. Being newer to the facility, the cooking is still the same. The faces are a little different. But basically, the recipes are the same, but I think as a chef it is our job to inject a little bit of who we are into it. So, we would take the standard marsala dish and we would make it our own.

“I will spend more time playing with food, experimenting with flavor profiles. For every success there has been two failures,” Roberts continued.

“It’s that kind of growth and development that is really one of the fundamental things about cooking is you need somebody who is going to foster your desire to experiment, but they also need to keep you in check and make sure you are not throwing good money away. That was the one nice thing about Larry Croy.”

Chicken Marsala for Four

Ingredients

1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast cleaned, pounded ¼-inch thick

4 tablespoons flour

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces of sliced mushrooms

1 medium shallot fine diced

2/3 cup chicken stock

2/3 cup Marsala wine (prefer dry)

2 tablespoons Italian parsley chopped

1 tablespoon butter

Optional

Julienne strips prosciutto

2/3 cup heavy cream to cut wine flavor

Directions

Pound chicken breasts. Salt and pepper them, and dredge in flour. Heat the skillet to medium heat. Add olive oil. Add floured breasts and mushrooms. Cook 3 minutes on medium high heat until browned. Turn breasts. Add diced shallots. Add Marsala wine. Cook.

Remove chicken from heat. Add demi-glace and chicken stock. Reduce by half. Swirl with softened butter and parsley. Pour over chicken.