After a week of cooking things that left me feeling a little bit… dissatisfied, I think maybe I just need to go back to the basics. Something that time after time, turns out well and makes me think that maybe I’m not a complete cooking failure. Experimentation is all well and good, and admittedly, how I’ve come upon some of my all-time favorite recipes, but sometimes I need to take a step back and make something that won’t frustrate me, that won’t betray my hopes and dreams for it, and that won’t taste like a waste of time.
Enter Chicken Marbella. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t made this? I hope not. It’s one of those things that while somewhat impressive, is simple to make and really delivers in the flavor department. Also, for some reason, it always makes me feel vaguely nostalgic. I don’t really know why; I don’t remember eating this as a kid. Actually, I’m positive I didn’t eat this as a kid, because there would have been no way that I would have eaten something with both olives AND prunes in it when I was a child. I think it’s because it’s from the Silver Palate Cookbook, which was always on my mom’s kitchen counter. Just the site of the book, with all its gorgeous pictures, brings me back to the house where I grew up. Isn’t that strange? They say that smell is most closely tied to memory, but I guess cookbooks do it for me, too.
Several years ago, while perusing the Printers’ Row Book Fair, my mom spied The Silver Palate Cookbook, and bought a copy for me as a gift, saying “You have to have a copy of this.” So now, every time I open the book, I have fond memories of that day, too. Isn’t it wonderful how a cookbook (or any book, really) can transport you like that?
This recipe is one that sounds strange when you read it, and to be honest, not all that appetizing. Prunes? Capers? Sugar? Olives? But somehow, it all kind of melds together into this beautiful, unique dish that just makes sense. A long marinade lets the flavors blend before the chicken even sees the oven, infusing all of the meat with a tender sweetness that I can’t seem to replicate in other recipes. The prunes plump up with chicken-y juices, and some of the capers crisp up on the chicken, while others hang out in the bottom of the pan with the olives and retain their briny, salty punch. It’s perfect in a Sunday afternoon picnic kind of way. Or in a Tuesday dinner kind of way. Or in a leftovers for lunch kind of way. You really can’t go wrong.
adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook
The original recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook calls for 4 chickens, which is a whole lot of chicken. Halving the recipe makes much more sense in most cases, unless you’re feeding a crowd. The recipe below reflects that- it would probably feed around 4-5 people. It calls for chicken quarters, but you can use whatever chicken pieces you want; you could use just bone-in breasts, or just thighs, or legs… or mix and match. Well, you get the drift. Also, this is one of those things that only gets better after it sits in the fridge for a day, and is really good served at room temperature, too, so it’s a great make-ahead meal.
4 lb chicken, quartered
5-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/8 cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/4 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine
1/8 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Arrange chicken in a single layer in a large shallow baking pan, or a roasting pan and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
Bake for 1 hour, or until chicken is cooked through. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice.
Transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Pour pan juices over the chicken. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top.