The Original Chicken Française Recipe Didn't Use The Same Main Ingredient

Since its nationhood, the U.S. has seen waves of immigration from around the world, each wave bringing a unique culinary culture that comprises our diverse cuisine today. Not only do immigrants share authentic dishes, but they also adapt those recipes to accommodate American tastes and ingredients. A case in point is chicken française, or chicken French as it's known in Rochester, New York where it originated.

Often compared to chicken piccata, chicken française consists of thinly pounded chicken cutlets dredged in flour and parmesan egg-wash, fried first in oil, then again in a white wine, lemon, and butter sauce. Despite its name, chicken française isn't French at all, but an American twist on the Italian dish vitello française, or veal French. Thus, the original recipe called for veal, not chicken. Italian Americans and chefs Tony Mammano and Joe Cairo brought the recipe to Rochester by way of New York City in the early 1950s.  They shared the recipe with local Rochester chef and owner of the Brown Derby restaurant, James Cianciola.

Cianciola's execution of Veal French won the hearts of diners and critics alike. However, by the 1970s, veal fell out of style both because of its expense and objection from animal cruelty campaigns. Consequently, Cianciola decided to swap veal for chicken, and the recipe has become a mainstay at Italian American restaurants in Rochester and beyond.

More variations on chicken française

Chicken française is an Italian American classic, like spaghetti and meatballs or vodka sauce, but its origin as an Italian veal dish along with its name alludes to yet another country: France. Perhaps the buttery white wine sauce spiked with lemon was an iteration of France's famous beurre blanc that uses both sherry vinegar and dry white wine. Lemon supplies a tangier citrus swap for sherry vinegar in chicken French, complementing the salty, nutty parmesan-infused crust of the chicken cutlet.

While chicken française is the most widespread recipe and menu item at Italian American restaurants, many still offer the traditional veal française at a higher price. With the increase in vegetarian diets throughout the U.S., restaurants and recipe developers have created vegetarian twists on chicken française that swap chicken for artichoke hearts or cauliflower. As an Italian American dish, fettuccine is the most popular accompaniment for chicken French. However, garlic bread is an equally Italian American dish that would make a good pasta swap. Roasted vegetable medley or steamed rice are gluten-free accompaniments that would also benefit from the tangy richness of chicken française's sauce.