August 05, 2014

Chicken Marbella

This post is for my friend Jess, who lovingly told me last night to get my ass in gear, cut it with the excuses, because they simply aren't good enough, and to show up and write a blog post. So here I am. Easy as that, except not really because it's already taken me forty-five minutes of typing and deleting to write these two sentences. But the struggle of writing after not writing is worth if if it's true what she says, that I'm wasting my talent. (And she insists that this is a talent.) Tough love is necessary sometimes, ya know?

I'm going to keep it simple today with a recipe for Chicken Marbella, it's Jess's favorite after all. Jess isn't alone; it's a cult favorite from The Silver Palate Cookbook, published in 1982. Considering I was born in 1982 I wasn't a a groupie then, and I'm guessing maybe you weren't either, which means that maybe you've never heard of it or tried it. (Or on the other hand maybe you eat this weekly and this is b-o-r-i-n-g, you tell me.) I first tasted Chicken Marbella in May 2008 when my friend Helen threw a dinner party to mark the end of our first year of architecture school. I think anything out of a home oven would have lifted my spirits after a year of Pad Thai and pizza, but the Chicken Marbella that night, served with orzo and salad, tasted especially otherwordly. It was a reminder that good food can instantly transport you to a mindset where you forget the to-do's and delight in the wonder of good friends and a cozy home. 

I tend to think of Chicken Marbella as my back pocket magic trick: it's easy to pull together, it feeds a crowd, and it's incredibly flavorful and delicious. The moment I'm faced with feeding more than four people I go into a complete stupor about what to cook and how to coordinate the timing so everything is done at the same time. Complete. Stupor. Until I discovered this dish, which mostly comes together the night before when you dump the ingredients in a bowl and let them linger lovingly in the fridge overnight. An hour before you're ready to serve you put the chicken and it's accompaniments in a roasting pan, add some wine and brown sugar, and bake, and ta-da dinner is served.

The ingredients list might turn you off, especially if you don't consider yourself a prune person, which is probably a good chunk of the under eighty crowd, but I beg you to give them a chance. Alongside olives and capers, and roasted in a bath of oil and wine, the prunes stand alongside strawberry ice cream and dark chocolate in their deliciousness. They melt in your mouth and provide a subtle sweetness when eaten together with the chicken. I've seen my share of dinner guests start popping prunes long after they've finished their chicken. It's the pre-dessert course. 

As with any dish it's not about a single ingredient, but about the ingredients together, and that's where this dish knocks it out of the park. Olives and chicken, yes! Prunes and white wine, yes! Capers, prunes, olive oil and chicken, yes! Oregano, garlic, and olives, yes! Honesty every bite is so satisfying, whether it's a slightly savory olive bit or a sweet prune bite, but you'll have to try it to understand. 

* please note that I scaled back the recipe when I took these pictures because it was just the three of us. (A food photo shoot simply isn't in the cards when I have people over for dinner, which is why it's taken me so long to share this recipe here.) The recipe below will serve 10-12. When I do scale it back I use the same amount of liquid ingredients (vinegar/oil/wine) to ensure that the chicken is partially submerged in the pan.

* The recipe calls for chicken quarters, which is lovely, but I more often use chicken legs and thighs. 

* it makes for great leftovers so don't be shy about cooking the full amount and saving some for later

4 chickens, 2 1/2 lbs each, quartered
1 head garlic, peeled and finely pureed (I use a garlic press)
1/4 cup dry oregano
coarse sea salt and black pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar (I almost never use the full amount - I sprinkle a coating on each piece of chicken)
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander, finely chopped

Place the chicken in a large bowl with the garlic, oregano, coarse salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Toss to combine and then cover and let it marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on in a roasting pan and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Poor white wine around the chicken and then sprinkle a coating of brown sugar over the chicken pieces.

Bake for 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices (essential!). You can place the chicken, prunes, olives and cappers on a serving plate, or you can do what I do and serve from the pan, which will allow people to help themselves to more pan juices (delicious on polenta).


  1. Yay! THANK YOU Jess for getting Talley back in action! And this post made me realize I have never tried making this despite those very very fond memories of that party at Helen's... YSoA seems so far away...

  2. Welcome back, Talley! This looks delicious and I am always looking for good things to do with chicken. And I actually like prunes, even though I am under 80 :)

  3. The briny olives and sweet prunes seems like a really strange combo-- I'm intrigued! So glad to see you back here again! :)

  4. glad Jess gave you a loving kick in the pants! This looks delicious and I was in need of a good chicken recipe besides the normal roasting. I'm not an olive fan though, you think it still needs them for the flavor, or could I just leave them out?