Chicken Marbella As A Small Plate
In The Beginning…
This recipe has become a classic ever since it was first created by the late Sheila Lukins and I while we were cooking for a dinner party in the Spring of 1976, This was long before our partnership, The Silver Palate Shop, or Cookbooks were ever even imagined.
It was all serendipity. Sheila was cooking for my “on again off again” beau” late one afternoon when I suddenly met her for the first time in his kitchen (obviously he and I were unexpectedly “on again”) as she was beginning to cook a dinner for 8 from “found ingredients” out of cupboards I was all too familiar with. She was a caterer who specialized in helping out bachelors. Sheil was their secret ingredient.
Once I understood what was going on, I pitched in as time was growing short and guests would be arriving any minute. We frantically searched for ingredients and immediately bonded over our shared loves of food and travel amidst mountains of almost hysterical laughter.
Olives in Market in FranceWe’d both recently visited Marrakech and Andalusia and luckily the boring chicken quarters we were facing became inspired by both of those wonderful cuisines. We were desperate. We began to transform them into treasures dotted with flavor gems … green Spanish olives, capers, prunes and oregano until they began to sparkle. We name it Chicken Marbella after the magnificent Club Marbella, a place we both loved.
The dish won raves that night and has continued to do so ever since. It is a combination of slightly sweet and tart accenting magnified flavors that titillate the palates of just about everyone. It seems to always be the star attraction at a dinner.
Chicken Marbella (mar-bay-ya) was one of the original main-course offerings featured at the shop in Manhattan. It remains a popular classic from The Silver Palate Cookbook. Today, we serve Chicken Marbella as an appetizer at Wickwood. This updated version is made with boneless/skinless chicken breasts in bite-sized pieces and much more of the good stuff so that everyone gets their fair share. We bake it covered so that the chicken doesn’t dry out and then flash it under the broiler to brown it just a bit. The leftovers, re-heated with their juices separately reduced, are wonderful over arugula as a lunch or dinner entrée salad. And, thus the secret of why cooking is so intriguing to me … it satisfies an insatiable curiosity as recipes can always be tweaked.
The key to this dish is the overnight marination which is essential to its moistness, especially when you’re using only chicken breasts. And, the chicken keeps and improves further if you marinate it longer. It’s a great dish for entertaining, a week night dinner, or a picnic. It stars in any company it keeps, but especially Nutted Wild Rice and Carrot Cake Cupcakes.
6 boneless/skinless chicken breasts (or if you can find with skin-on, so much the better)
20 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
¼ cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil, good quality
2 cups pitted prunes
1¾ cup pitted Spanish green olives
1 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1½ cup light brown sugar
2 cups white wine
½ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- In a large bowl combine chicken pieces, garlic, oregano, pepper , salt, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
- Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
- Arrange chicken in a single layer in two large shallow baking pans (do not crowd or the chicken will steam), and distribute the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them. Cover the pans tightly with foil.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, basting every ten minutes with the pan juices. Chicken is done when juices yielded are clear, not pink. Pre-heat the broiler well and baste the chicken again. Place the pans of chicken about 2″ under it for 3-4 minutes until the chicken becomes just slightly browned. Do not leave it long, as it will dry the chicken out. Serve over rice or greens and pass the sauces on the side.