What is Saltimbocca?
Saltimbocca is a Mediterranean dish which originated in Italy, although it is widely eaten throughout Southern Europe. The exact components and preparation for saltimbocca vary, but the key to the dish is the inclusion of a meat such as veal, pork, or chicken, and the use of prosciutto to wrap it for cooking. The result is a very rich, flavorful dish which can be eaten as an appetizer or an entree, and paired with a wide assortment of complementary foods.
In Italian, saltimbocca means “to jump in the mouth,” which is supposed to be a reference to the fact that the dish is so good that it literally jumps into the diner's mouth. It is made by wrapping the meat of choice in thinly wrapped prosciutto, adding some sage leaves, and then marinating the meat in a mixture which varies, depending on the nation where the dish is being prepared. Then, the saltimbocca is sauteed, and served with its own drippings; capers may be added as well, in some regions.
As a general rule, the meat is pounded, to make it extremely tender. Pounding also softens the meat, allowing it to absorb more of the marinade, and more of the drippings during the cooking process. As you might imagine, saltimbocca is not by any means low in fat, and the fats are part of what make the dish so rich and flavorful.
Some sort of wine is the most common base for the marinade, with the famous Saltimbocca alla Romana being prepared with marsala. It is also possible to see marinades of brined water, or flavored oils. The marinade is usually kept simple, because the goal is to allow the flavors of the meat to shine through without interruption, and some marinade may be reserved to deglaze the pan after cooking, ensuring that all of the flavorful drippings are saved to dress the meat.
You can see wedges of saltimbocca served as part of a complete meal, but cooks can also slice the dish up into bite-sized pieces for use as an appetizer. White wines tend to pair best with saltimbocca, depending on the meat selected, and the dish can be served in summer or winter, depending on personal taste. For a twist on traditional saltimbocca, cooks can also play with other meats, or a saltimbocca which is designed to be served as a cold cut.
I've had saltimbocca with veal and chicken before, but I've never had it as part of a main course. It's always been something I've ordered as an appetizer. It's a little on the rich and salty side, so I wasn't sure I'd want an entire meal-sized portion or not. The capers definitely add something to the overall flavor, and I love prosciutto on anything. I think if I order it as part of a main course, I'll try the saltimbocca with marsala first.
I've only had saltimbocca one time myself, but I've seen it listed on a lot of menus in Italian restaurants. If I had known what it was, I would have ordered it a lot more often. I think the kind I had was veal saltimbocca. It was on an appetizer plate at an Italian friend's wedding reception and I asked him what it was.
I am a meat lover by nature, and the combination of marinated veal with the salty prosciutto was amazing. I'm definitely ordering Saltimbocca alla Romana the next time my wife and I go out to dinner at our favorite Italian place.
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