You’ve probably seen some permutation of a dish cooked à la Florentine at some point on a restaurant menu, and probably had chicken or eggs Florentine once or twice. The key thing to know is that, generally speaking, “Florentine” refers to something featuring spinach as a key ingredient. If you’re a fan of spinach, either for its taste, texture, or health benefits, that may be all you need to know. But there’s a bit more to cuisine à la Florentine than that.
Strictly speaking, a “Florentine” dish is built upon spinach that was simmered in butter, topped with creamy Mornay sauce and grated cheese, and then given an au gratin—broiled—finish. This refined technique came to the French court when Catherine d’Medici, the powerful and noble daughter of the Florentine family, married Henri d’Orleans, the later king of France, bringing her chefs and taste for elegance with her. Since then, a variety of dishes à la Florentine have proliferated. In modern western culture, the phrase has become so widely used as to have also loosened in its meaning, simply referring to food that puts spinach in the spotlight. So, when we talk about chicken Florentine, realize that there are more chicken Florentines, Catherine d’Medici, than were dreamt of in your culinary court.
As for my recipe, I wanted to achieve something approaching decadent but not quite crossing the line of heart attack-inducing. Since there’s already quite a bit of butter in the sauce and mushrooms, I thought I’d spare the chicken an equally buttery cook and instead just let them do their thing in the oven. They turned out perfectly cooked, and if you turn on the broiler just before they finish cooking you’ll get a nice crisp on them! I also opted not to do a creamy sauce on top, just to keep things a little lighter.
1 cup flour
An ample amount of salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 ½ TBSP marjoram
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
½ cup parmesan cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup of butter, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup dry white wine
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb spinach, chopped and divided
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350F. Rinse and dry the chicken thighs. In a wide, shallow bowl, mix the flour and seasonings. In a second bowl (this one doesn’t need to be shallow, as it’ll contain liquid that you want to dip the chicken into), beat the eggs with a little bit of water. In a third bowl (shallow like the first), combine the parmesan and bread crumbs. One at a time, dredge the chicken thighs in first the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, then the bread crumb mixture, coating well, and lay out on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Set in the oven on the middle rack and allow to cook for about 20 minutes, until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is cut with a knife. If desired, cook under the broiler for 1 or two minutes to achieve a nice gold brown crisp. Once the chicken is done, pull it out of the oven and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat half the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and the mushrooms, and let cook on medium or just a little below for ten minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent and the mushrooms are fragrant. Add a little salt and pepper, and deglaze with the white wine. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, around 30 seconds. Set the heat to low and add half the chopped spinach—it should wilt almost immediately but remain bright green. Keep the heat on low until you’re ready to serve.
In a small skillet, add the rest of the butter over medium heat and cook until browned.
Place the rest of the chopped spinach in a large bowl. Cut the lemon into quarters and squeeze the juices over the spinach, then message into the spinach to thoroughly coat. Pile some of the raw spinach onto each of four plates. Top with a couple pieces of chicken, then with the mushroom and spinach mixture, and finally with a drizzle of the brown butter. Serve immediately, garnished with freshly chopped parsley.