By Andrew Zimmern
Chicken Marbella first appeared in recipe form in the 1982 Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. In the 1970s, Lukins ran a catering company in Manhattan. Rosso knew some of her customers, ate her food and their friendship eventually led to a groundbreaking business model for food shops in New York City. In 1977, the duo opened The Silver Palate, a small take-away shop that prepared beautiful meals for the grab-and-go crowd. My family had been catering customers of Sheila’s and shopped at the store regularly once it opened.
Chicken Marbella, a Lukins’ favorite from the early days of her catering business, became a Jewish holiday and Shabbat dinner party favorite of ours for many decades. I grew up eating The Silver Palate version of this dish.
For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to have tasted this amazing treat prepared by the legend herself, the dish is a smart combination of olives, capers, prunes, oregano, garlic, red wine vinegar, brown sugar and white wine. And, while not intended specifically as a Jewish holiday recipe, it fits the bill perfectly and has been a stalwart in our family for decades. The Mediterranean inspirations are deeply felt, the agrodolce of the Italian kitchen is stacked deep in this dish and yet it all feels like the sweet and sour flavors of your bubbe’s kitchen. Maybe it’s the prunes?
If you are cooking for a crowd, and oven space is an issue, I make sure I marinate overnight, then I brown the chicken in the morning and proceed with the recipe until the part where you slide it in the oven. I refrigerate it at that point so that all I do for dinner service is slide it into the oven for an hour or so to cook.
I have adapted this recipe long ago, making it a little more to my taste, adding a few twists, and, of course, apricots because I always have them in the cupboard.
- 2 chickens, quartered
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 shallots, minced
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp coarse salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 1 cup pitted prunes
- 1 cup dried apricots (I like the sulfur free ones)
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives (I like to use Green Lucques)
- 1/4 cup capers, rinsed well
- 3 fresh bay leaves (dried are fine in a pinch)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, plus 3 Tbsp
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ cup red vermouth
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped, reserve a little for garnish
Marinate the chicken in the oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, shallots and vinegar for 24 hours.
Heat oil in a large pan, and working in batches, brown the chicken on both sides saving the marinade. Place chicken in a single layer in a big lasagna pan.
Deglaze the pan with the wine and vermouth, reducing by about half. Add reserved marinade and all remaining ingredients except the 3 Tbsp brown sugar to the pan, swirl, bring to a boil again and pour mixture over chicken. Sprinkle the pieces with the 3 Tbsp brown sugar.
Bake at 375 for an hour or so until done. Season and placing the chicken quarters on a platter, pour all the ingredients in the pan over the poultry. Sprinkle with a little parsley and serve.