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Food and Drink

It’s a great time to revisit the classic ’80s dish Chicken Marbella

  • Author: Kim Sunée
    | Alaska cooking
  • Updated: February 18
  • Published February 18

Chicken Marbella Revisited (Photo by Kim Sunée)

Although tempting, there’s no need to break out the Fiestaware or Ginsu knives as we revisit this throwback to the 1980s. Move aside, spinach salad, sloppy Joes and dips served in giant, carved-out bread bowls, and let’s hear it for Chicken Marbella.

The recipe, as well as many others from 1982′s “The Silver Palate Cookbook” — not as technically challenging as trying to master the art of French cooking — by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso were all the rage for elevated yet accessible dishes. It introduced home cooks to Asian and Mediterranean flavors, including spicy sesame noodles and pesto, way before they were hot on every restaurant and catering menu.

Over the years I’ve made variations of Chicken Marbella, a great pantry-forward dish, using up olives, capers and prunes. (Yes, I urge you to give prunes a chance.) They lend an earthy sweet-tartness to the overall dish. The original recipe calls for four whole chickens marinated overnight in a combination of vinegar, olive oil and the brine of olive and caper — don’t worry, equal amounts of oil and vinegar balance nicely and will not ruin your chicken, but make sure to not marinate longer than overnight. Until I cook for big crowds again, I’ve modified this recipe using six to eight bone-in chicken pieces. Wings and small drumsticks also work well and make for great finger food.

Sometimes I add crushed red pepper, anchovies or veg out completely, omitting chicken and adding in squash, zucchini, eggplant, chick peas and/or cauliflower. The original also calls for topping the chicken with brown sugar to form a sweet crust; I usually opt out and garnish with everything from chopped parsley and lemon zest to toasted Marcona almonds and pomegranate arils, or a drizzle of pomegranate molasses or thick balsamic vinegar.

After marinating, roast it all on a sheet pan, which makes for easy weeknight dining. When I’m pressed for time, cooking on the stove top in a heavy-bottomed cast-iron skillet makes for quick one-pot cooking —I’ve included both options below. The combo of flavors is quite addictive and the sauce pairs well over steamed couscous and a little swirl of harissa. If this is your jam, you’ll be making it “Time after Time.” Cindy Lauper and leg warmers optional.

Chicken Marbella Revisited

10 to 12 cloves garlic

1/4 cup good olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar or raspberry vinegar

1 cup large pitted prunes (about 7 ounces)

1 cup green olives (about 6 ounces pitted)

1/4 cup capers, with some brine (plus more for garnish, if desired)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Pinch red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

3 to 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, such as thighs and legs

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional, see note above)

Optional garnishes: Fresh chopped parsley or cilantro; toasted Marcona almonds; pomegranate arils; fried capers

Serving suggestions: Steamed couscous and harissa; pasta; toasted baguette slices

1. Crush garlic and peel cloves. Place cloves in a food processor and pulse into a coarse purée, or using a knife, smash and mince very finely. Scrape puréed garlic into a gallon-size, zip-top plastic bag or large glass or other non-reactive bowl. Stir in olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and a bit of caper brine, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Add chicken pieces and turn to coat. Refrigerate at least 8 hours and up to overnight. Note: Equal amounts of oil and vinegar balance out and won’t make your chicken tough, but be sure not to let marinate more than overnight.

2. When ready to cook, here are two options:

• Oven method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chicken pieces in a single layer on a sheet pan and pour marinade over evenly. Pour in the wine and sprinkle chicken evenly with brown sugar, if using. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, basting chicken pieces every 15 minutes, and until juices from the dark meat run clear. Taste sauce and add more salt or pepper, as needed. Garnish and serve warm or at room temperature.

• Stovetop method: Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet, preferably cast iron, and place over medium-high heat. Pat chicken pieces dry with a paper towel. Leave marinade and olives and prunes, etc. in marinade. Add about one teaspoon vegetable oil; when oil is hot, add chicken thighs, skin-side down and let cook without disturbing at least 15 minutes and until skin is golden brown. If skin is browning too quickly, modify heat accordingly. Turn chicken over and add wine and rest of marinade, including prunes, capers, etc. Let cook, uncovered, another 20 to 30 minutes, adding a little bit of chicken or vegetable broth, as needed. If you want to go the brown sugar route (see note above), add to chicken after cooking on second side for 20 to 30 minutes and broil on high a few minutes just until skin is bubbling and golden brown. Garnish as desired.

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