Chicken Piccata Vs Scallopini: What's The Difference?

Who thought of the brilliant addition of capers to a lemon butter sauce? Well, The Modern Proper says that no one really knows where this combination came from, but the chicken piccata which we all know by its delectable lemon-caper sauce is now an Italian-American classic. Those thinly butterflied chicken breasts lightly coated in flour and fried in that lemony caper butter sauce are staples in Italian restaurants all across the United States. The chicken piccata offers the perfect balance between rich and refreshing flavors with its combination of lardy sauce and lighter citrusy lemons and capers. 

On the other hand, the chicken scallopini is a very similar dish, which is thinly butterflied chicken breasts usually bathed in a lemon-caper butter sauce. If both chicken piccata and chicken scallopini are thinly sliced chicken breasts served in that signature piccata sauce then what is the difference between these incredibly similar dishes?

Chicken piccata

The name of the chicken piccata comes from the Italian word "piccata," which means larded or buttered. Frankie Bones notes that this is a rough translation of the French would "piqued," which means "sharp," and most likely refers to the way the meat is thinly sliced and cooked in lemon. The origin of the chicken piccata is unclear, but many seem to think it was invented by Italian Americans in the 1930s (via SeattlePi). Although lemon butter sauce has been a part of Italian cuisine, the lemon caper butter sauce is a pretty new invention that defines the chicken piccata. 

The single term piccata includes multiple-step directions for cooking chicken or veal in a certain way (via Kitchn). First, it calls for thin slices of the meat, which dictates how the meat is cut. Second, it includes the dredging of the meat in flour. And lastly, it specifies the way it is cooked and the sauce in which it is served. As mentioned earlier, the Italian word "piccata" might be a loose translation of a French word that means something entirely different. Still, the piccata is a pretty distinct dish that calls for thinly sliced meat, a light dredge of flour, and a lemon-caper butter sauce.

Chicken scallopini

On the other hand, chicken scallopini is derived from the Italian word "scaloppine," which refers to the way the meat is cut, per NYT Cooking. To scaloppine chicken or veal, you must butterfly it, and beat it to make sure it is thin, like a scallop. Thus, chicken scallopini is a less specific dish than chicken piccata, and can really be any thinly sliced chicken.

In fact, chicken piccata is a type of chicken scallopini, since it is made from thinly sliced chicken. It is perhaps one of the most common ways a chicken scallopini is prepared, which is why the two dishes can be confused for one another. The chicken scallopini only dictates how the meat is cut, so it can be cooked in any way or served with any sauce. According to Will Cook for Smiles, other popular Italian chicken dishes like chicken marsala and chicken Milanese are types of chicken scallopini, since all of them use thinly butterflied chicken breasts. In the end, the piccata is more about the sauce and scallopini is about the way the meat is sliced — so feel free to use any meat for your piccata or any sauce for your scallopini.