Chicken Marbella is probably the most famous dish to come out of the beloved Silver Palate Cookbook by Julie Rosso and the late Sheila Lukins. I grew up eating it…in fact, my mother still makes it on special occasions. I almost didn’t post the recipe because I figured most of you already had it, but then it occurred to me that there might be a whole new generation of cooks that didn’t. After all, the cookbook was published in 1982. I don’t know about you but I was only 9 years old!
So, what makes Chicken Marbella so famous and special? Well, for starters, the chicken is unfailingly tender and juicy. It’s also incredibly flavorful, thanks to a long marinade in garlic and herbs and a savory-sweet gravy that, I swear, is good enough to drink. But more than anything, it’s the combination of deep purple prunes, briny capers and meaty green olives that makes it so spectacular.
It’s also incredibly easy to make. Most of the preparation is done the day before…You simply rub the chicken with the marinade, toss in some capers, olives and prunes, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The next day, you douse it with white wine, sprinkle some brown sugar over top, and bake it. That’s really all there is to it.
If you don’t have the Silver Palate Cookbook, a 25th anniversary edition complete with photos was published a few years ago. The recipes are as relevant today as they were many years ago…in fact, my mother still keeps her original copy by the stove, with the Chicken Marbella page dog-eared, tattered and scribbled on.
Below you’ll find the recipe as it was originally printed but with our notes and hints in parenthesis. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have over the years.
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso
2 chickens, 2½ lbs each, quartered, bone-in, skin-on
½ head garlic, peeled and finely puréed (8 cloves, minced)
2 tablespoons dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (about 2¼ teaspoons coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup pitted prunes
¼ cup pitted Spanish green olives
¼ cup capers with a bit of juice
3 bay leaves
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley or cilantro, finely chopped (preferably parsley)
1) In a large bowl combine garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers with caper juice, and bay leaves. Add the chicken pieces and coat completely with the marinade (use your hands to rub marinade all over and especially under the skin). Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
2) Preheat oven to 350°F.
3) Arrange chicken in a single layer in two 9 x 13-inch baking dishes and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
4) Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with the pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest point, yield clear yellow juice (not pink).
5) With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Add some of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley. Serve remaining sauce in a gravy boat. (Alternatively, you can brown the skin and de-fat the gravy before serving. Here’s how: When the chicken is done, transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter, then pour the gravy into a medium bowl and let the fat settle at the top. In the meantime, place the chicken back in baking dishes and broil for a few minutes to brown the skin. While chicken is browning, de-fat the gravy. Transfer chicken pieces back to serving platter and pour some of the gravy over top. Serve remaining sauce in a gravy boat.)
You can substitute all white or dark meat depending on what your family likes. I’ve also seen appetizer versions made entirely with small drumsticks and wings.
Serve hot or at room temperature.