This one-pan chicken in tomato sauce is a riff on classic Italian Steak alla Pizzaiola. In this chicken cutlets recipe, the thin chicken breasts are quickly pan-seared, simmered in an herb-spiked tomato and caper sauce, and finished with a topping of melty mozzarella cheese for a richly flavored dish that’s ready in 40 minutes. 

pollo alla pizzaiola chicken in tomato sauce in a skillet next to a small bowl of red pepper flakes.
Photo Credits: Ali Redmond

Pollo alla Pizzaiola, or “chicken in the style of the pizza maker,” is a twist on one of on one of the most beloved dishes in Naples: Bistecca alla Pizzaiola. This classic dish is traditionally made with beef or veal simmered in a zesty tomato sauce.

Here, I swap in chicken cutlets, which add a refreshing lightness without compromising on taste. It’s so quick, easy, and flavorful that you’ll put it into your regular dinner rotation, along with crusty bread or homemade focaccia for scooping up the sauce. 

Why is it called “in the style of the pizza maker?” Easy! The ingredients in Pollo alla Pizzaiola are the same as a classic Neapolitan pizza: simple tomato sauce enhanced with zesty herbs and mozzarella. My version also calls for a spoonful of capers for a briny factor and red pepper flakes to add a nice kick.

I used our Homemade Italian Seasoning, a blend of six herbs, including basil, marjoram, and oregano. You can stick with one or two herbs if you prefer but don’t leave out the oregano. Its earthy, faintly pungent flavor is key. I also add a pinch of red pepper flakes for both zest and spice.

ingredients for pollo alla pizzaiola chicken in tomato sauce including chicken mozzarella cheese, olive oil, garlic, canned diced tomatoes, capers, salt, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning.
Table of Contents
  1. Ingredients for Pollo alla Pizzaiola 
  2. How to Make Chicken Cutlets
  3. How to Make this Chicken Cutlet Recipe 
    1. Slice and Sear the Chicken
    2. Make the Tomato Sauce and Simmer
  4. What to Serve with this Chicken Cutlet Recipe 
  5. Saucy and Delicious Chicken Recipes 
  6. Save When You Bundle Our Best-Selling Olive Oil Collection!
  7. Pollo Alla Pizzaiola (Chicken in Tomato Sauce) Recipe


Ingredients for Pollo alla Pizzaiola 

Nearly everything you need for this chicken cutlets recipe is probably already in your pantry. Just add chicken breasts and mozzarella cheese.

  • Chicken breasts: I use boneless, skinless chicken breast halves which I halve and pound thin (see “How to Make Chicken Cutlets” below). If you prefer a shortcut you can buy boneless, skinless breasts already thinly sliced into cutlets. 
  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Use a medium-intensity Italian olive oil to bring out the flavor of the tomato sauce.
  • Garlic: One garlic clove is all you need to add a garlicky punch.
  • Canned tomatoes: Use unseasoned whole or diced canned tomatoes since you’ll be seasoning the chicken and sauce as you cook. If you use whole, either mash them coarsely or use kitchen scissors to chop them up.
  • Capers: I have a slight preference for salt-cured capers over those kept in brine. To me they have a cleaner caper flavor. However, either works in this dish.
  • Red pepper flakes: Just a pinch to brings a mild heat to the sauce. You can leave this out if you’re sensitive to spice, or substitute with black pepper. 
  • Italian seasoning: A good hit of herbs really boosts the flavor of both the chicken and the sauce. Mix up a batch of our Homemade Italian Seasoning to keep on hand. Otherwise, substitute dried oregano or a mix of oregano and a second herb, such as thyme, parsley, or rosemary.
  • Mozzarella: Choose slightly drier, wrapped mozzarella rather than mozzarella stored in brine, which has too much liquid for this preparation. Slice the mozzarella thinly to layer it over the chicken.
a close up of a skillet of pollo alla pizzaiola chicken in tomato sauce.


How to Make Chicken Cutlets

Although you can buy already prepared cutlets, it is less expensive to start with whole pieces of breast and cut and pound your own. Plus, it’s a good basic skill to master. All you need is a sharp knife, a bit of agility, and a little elbow grease. The more you practice, the easier it gets. Here’s how to do it:

  • Halve the chicken breast. Place a chicken breast half on a clean cutting board. Hold the breast steady with the palm of one hand. With the other hand, gently slice horizontally through the chicken breast to create two even pieces. Take care to keep the fingers of your steadying hand positioned upward and away from the knife blade as you slice.
  • Pound the chicken cutlet. Take one of the pieces and sandwich it between two pieces of waxed paper or plastic wrap and smooth out any wrinkles. Now, pound the chicken with a mallet, working slowly and steadily rather than aggressively to avoid tearing the fibers of the meat. As you pound, guide the mallet downward and then sideways slightly to help “stretch” out the meat to an even thickness. Keep pounding and stretching until the breast is somewhere between ¼ and ⅓-inch thick. 
  • Step back and admire your beautiful chicken cutlet!
a serving of pollo alla pizzaiola chicken in tomato sauce on a plate with a fork.


How to Make this Chicken Cutlet Recipe 

This chicken in tomato sauce recipe is perfect for those weeknights when you’re hungry but don’t have a lot of time to fuss with dinner. It delivers big, satisfying flavor in 40 minutes in just a few easy steps.


Slice and Sear the Chicken

  • Prep the chicken breasts. If you’re using chicken breast halves. Cut them in half and pound them until they are ¼ to ⅓ inch thick (see “How to Make Chicken Cutlets” above). Pat the cutlets dry and season lightly with salt and pepper.3 chicken cutlets on a cutting board, one covered with plastic wrap and flattened with a nearby mallet.
  • Lightly brown the chicken. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet with 1 lightly crushed garlic clove. Gently cook until the garlic softens slightly and turns pale gold, 2 to 3 minutes. Press down on the garlic to release its flavor, then remove it and set it aside. Arrange some of the chicken slices in the skillet, taking care not to overcrowd the pan or the chicken will steam. Brown lightly over medium to medium-high heat, turning once. This will take about 2 minutes per side. The chicken does not have to brown significantly; a light coloring here and there is fine. Transfer the slices to a plate and repeat the browning with the remaining slices of chicken.two chicken cutlets being browned in a skillet.


Make the Tomato Sauce and Simmer

  • Make the sauce. Reduce the heat in the pan to low and add 2 more tablespoons of oil. Carefully pour in the tomatoes—watch for spatters—and stir. For a more pronounced garlic flavor, return the clove to the pan; otherwise, discard it. Rinse the capers under cold water and pat them dry. Coarsely chop them and add them to the sauce, along with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and 1 to 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning (I use 2). Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer. Let it simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, until it is thickened but still “saucy.”tomato sauce for the pollo alla pizzaiola chicken in tomato sauce simmering in a skillet.
  • Finish cooking the chicken. Add the chicken back to the pan, overlapping the slices a little if necessary, so they all fit snugly. Turn the slices in the sauce a few times to coat them well. Slice the ball of mozzarella thinly and arrange the slices on top of the chicken. Cover the pan and cook until the mozzarella is melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for a minute or two before serving.
a glass of wine and a skillet of pollo alla pizzaiola chicken in tomato sauce, with a portion removed, sitting on a plate next to it.


What to Serve with this Chicken Cutlet Recipe 

The zesty sauce for this chicken cutlets recipe is arguably the best part. You’ll definitely want some good bread to scoop it up. Easy ciabatta garlic bread or homemade rosemary focaccia both complement the herby, saucy chicken. Add a simple salad, like a lemon parmesan salad, and dinner is done.

Saucy and Delicious Chicken Recipes 

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5 from 5 votes

Pollo Alla Pizzaiola (Chicken in Tomato Sauce)

Domenica Marchetti
pollo alla pizzaiola chicken in tomato sauce in a skillet next to a small bowl of red pepper flakes.
Tender chicken cutlets are quickly browned and then cooked in a savory tomato sauce spiked with Italian herbs, capers, and a pinch of hot pepper. Serve this one-pan main with good bread and salad on the side.
Prep – 15 minutes
Cook – 25 minutes
Total – 40 minutes
Cuisine:
Italian
Serves – 4
Course:
Entree

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pound chicken breasts or chicken cutlets
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped (or a 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry
  • Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 (8-ounce) ball low-moisture mozzarella, cut into thin slices

Instructions
 

  • Prep the chicken. If you’re using chicken breast, make them into cutlets by carefully slicing them in half lenthwise. Start at the thicker side and press down with the palm of your nondominant hand to steady the chicken breast as you go. Wrap one piece at a time in in plastic, then pound with a mallet until the breasts are ¼ and ⅓-inch thick. Sprinkle the cutlets with salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Make a garlicky oil. In a large skillet over medium heat, stir together 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is softened and pale gold, 2 to 3 minutes. Press down on the garlic to release its flavor, then remove and set aside.
  • Brown the chicken. Arrange half of the cutlets in the pan and cook over medium to medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the cutlets to a plate and brown the remaining pieces in the same way. Transfer them to the platter.
  • Make the tomato sauce. Turn the heat to low and add 2 more tablespoons of oil. Pour in the chopped tomatoes—watch for spatters—and stir. Return the garlic to the pan for a more assertive flavor; otherwise, discard it. To the pan, add the capers, red pepper flakes, ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt, and the Italian seasoning and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook the sauce for 5 to 8 minutes, until it is thickened but still “saucy” rather than dense.
  • Finish cooking the chicken. Return the pieces of chicken to the pan, overlapping the slices a little if necessary, so they all fit. Using tongs or a fork, turn the slices in the sauce a few times to coat them well. Lay the slices of mozzarella on top of the chicken, then cover the pan and cook until the mozzarella has melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for a minute or two.
  • Serve the chicken. Arrange the slices on dinner plates or a serving plate and spoon the sauce on and around the slices. Or, serve directly from the pan.

Notes

  • I used our Homemade Italian Seasoning, a blend of six herbs, including basil, marjoram, and oregano. You can stick with one or two herbs if you prefer or a store-bought variety, but don’t leave out the oregano. Its earthy, faintly pungent flavor is key.
  • Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams, and spices.

Nutrition

Calories: 227.2kcalCarbohydrates: 1.1gProtein: 24.3gFat: 13.6gSaturated Fat: 2.1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 8.6gTrans Fat: 0.01gCholesterol: 72.8mgSodium: 480.1mgPotassium: 437.1mgFiber: 0.5gSugar: 0.1gVitamin A: 56.1IUVitamin C: 1.7mgCalcium: 25.4mgIron: 0.9mg
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Domenica Marchetti is the author of eight books on Italian home cooking, including "Williams-Sonoma Everyday Italian," “Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions,” and “The Glorious Pasta of Italy.” When she's not writing or creating recipes, Domenica teaches Italian cooking classes on Zoom and leads occasional small-group culinary tours and workshops in Italy.
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Comments

    1. Hello! You can leave them out, if you prefer. Chopped green olives would be a great substitute, though. You'll still get that savory, briny burst of flavor you would with capers.

  1. 5 stars
    This looks delicious, and I can't wait to make it for my husband. I'm partial to chicken thigh, but this seems like a meal where chicken breast would be good, too!

    Where I live, I am unable to find mozzarella in anything but liquid. Will this be ok if it is pat dried with paper towels really well? Should I leave it out for a while?

    Thank you for sharing these delicious recipes!

    1. Hi, Dani. If you can't find the packages of mozzarella, then the option in the brine would probably be okay. Definitely pat it dry, though, to get rid of as much moisture as possible.