When I moved back to New York from Cambridge in 1982, I found an apartment on Columbus Avenue down the block from the Dakota and across the street from a take-home gourmet shop called the Silver Palate. Their window was always filled with delicious fare, most of which I couldn’t afford but nonetheless aspired to recreate.
This aspiration was made much easier when I found the shop’s eponymously named cookbook, which is the primary source of the recipe featured in today’s post: Chicken Marbella. I must admit, however, that I was prompted to make the dish, not out of nostalgia but rather by the request of my husband, who had watched Ina Garten prepare an updated version of it on the Food Network. After comparing both recipes, I opted for Garten’s, which is very close to the original but uses less sugar though more garlic and prunes.
That both versions call for two chickens attests to Chicken Marbella’s being the quintessential party dish, and that all of the preparation is done a day ahead makes it an even more appealing choice for entertaining.
One interesting difference between the two versions is that the original calls for 2½-pound chickens quartered and the update, for 4-pounders cut into eight pieces. So many recipes from the 70s and 80s call for these smaller chickens that used to be called “broilers,” but which alas seem to have vanished from supermarkets. In fact, finding a chicken under 4 pounds often proves to be a challenge.
I pretty much followed Garten’s recipe, but as I was cooking for two used only one chicken. For the marinade, however, rather than halving the ingredients I reduced the quantities by about a third. (At our table, there’s never too much sauce.) I also used dark-brown sugar, as opposed to light, since that was all I had on hand and which was also used in the original version of the dish. Finally, from the photos, you may notice that my chicken is cut into 10 pieces, which I can attribute only to my becoming cleaver happy, due largely perhaps to pandemic aggression.
For a dish that requires so little effort, it yields an abundance of Mediterranean allure. Savory and sweet, the rich flavors linger on the palate. The chicken is moist and imbued with briny notes from the capers and olives complemented by sweet tones from the prunes and brown sugar. . .a perfect counterpoint of flavors. And oh. . .how this dish brought us back to happier times.
Chicken Marbella (Updated) (adapted from a recipe in Cook Like A Pro by Ina Garten)
Scant ½ cup good olive oil
Scant ½ cup good red wine vinegar
1 cup large pitted prunes
¾ cup large green olives, pitted
Scant ½ cup capers, including the juices
3 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
2 tablespoons dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (4-pound) chicken, back removed and cut in 8 to 10 pieces
2 tablespoons light-brown sugar, lightly packed
¾ cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers, bay leaves, garlic, oregano, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a 1-gallon plastic storage bag or a large bowl.
2. Add the chicken to the marinade. (If using a bag, squeeze out the air to make sure the chicken is fully covered with the marinade.)
3. Refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally to be sure the marinade is getting into all of the chicken pieces.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
5. Place the chicken, skin side up, along with the marinade in one layer in a medium-size (9 × 13-inch) roasting pan, sprinkle with the brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper, and pour the wine around (not over!) the chicken.
6. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until the internal temperature of the chicken is 145°F.
7. Remove the pan from the oven, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
8. Transfer the chicken, prunes, and olives to a serving platter, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices.
Wine Pairing: Syrah, Pinot Grigio