When you have 87-year-olds over for dinner, even hip and cool 87-year-olds like our family friend Bob, it doesn’t seem right to serve quinoa for dinner. So this weekend I broke out some old-school favorites that wouldn’t require explanation in a buffet line: roasted brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes, wild rice salad, warm lemon-dijon potato salad and this hyper-popular chicken from the 1980s: chicken Marbella.
I was a kid in the ’80s, but the Silver Palate – the game-changing food shop that launched the defining cookbooks of its time – was still around when I got to Manhattan in the early 1990s. The narrow storefront on Columbus Avenue was tiny and modest, but its impact was enormous – moving American kitchens out of the weird combo of health food and convenience mixes of the 1970s and into a world-influenced direction of gourmet home cooking.
Chicken Marbella, a Provence-inspired dish made with capers, green olives, prunes, and plenty of garlic and oregano, was the first main course offered at the Silver Palate. The recipes from partners Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso were a revelation: creative, surprising, impressive and accessible. With its bold flavors and ease of preparation, Chicken Marbella became the dish for entertaining – good at any temperature, fantastic left over.
I modified the recipe to use boneless chicken thighs – easier to eat than bone-in chicken, and faster to cook – and everyone from teens to octogenarian Bob raved about it. Marinating the night before was simple, and the chicken only took 20 minutes of relaxed, hands-free baking before serving. Fruit cocktail in a Jell-O mold may be a dish that is stuck in time, but chicken Marbella is a classic for the ages.
The key ingredients are olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano and garlic. This is a strongly flavored dish, so it’s very forgiving of ingredient modification or substitution. You could use apple cider vinegar instead or red wine vinegar, or dried apricots for prunes. If you don’t have capers, use more olives, or vice versa.
This recipe uses a lot of oregano and bay leaves, so it’s worthwhile to buy it in bulk quantity (eg Costco), or at an ethnic market (or World Market), that sells bulk spices in inexpensive cellophane packets.
The marinade is quick to assemble: olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, garlic, bay leaves, capers, prunes and green olives.
This is over 12 pounds of boneless chicken thighs in my biggest mixing bowl – double the Silver Palate’s already giant recipe.
I remembered halfway into adding the marinade that I meant to season the chicken with salt and pepper first.
If you’re not too squeamish, rubbing the marinade into the chicken with your hands works best.
With the party going, I forgot to take pictures of the cooking process. The chicken goes into a single layer in a baking dish, sprinkled with a bit of brown sugar and some white wine. It comes out beautifully golden and succulent.
Faith Durand at the Kitchn recommends 425 degrees F for baking boneless thighs, but I thought 400 degrees F would be a little more forgiving if I lost track of time in the din. I used a roasting pan and a large casserole to cook half the chicken at once. Then I put in the second batch, and it was hot when people came for seconds. But this chicken is really amazing at any temperature.
This recipe makes a lot of sauce. I spooned it over, but you could serve it separately in a sauceboat. Mashed potatoes are no good for a buffet, but another time I’m dying to try this chicken and sauce over colcannon.
This wildly popular entertaining dish from the 1980s is just as good 30 years later. This version, adapted from the classic Silver Palate Cookbook, uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which cook quickly and are tender and durable for a dinner buffet.
- 6 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
- 1/4 cup dried oregano
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 cup pitted prunes
- 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
- 1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
- 6 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley or cilantro, chopped
- Marinate a few hours ahead or overnight if you can. In a bowl, combine garlic, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives (halved if you like), bay leaves and capers with juice. Rinse and dry chicken, trimming if necessary, and put in a large bowl. Season well with salt (5 teaspoons kosher salt; half that if using table salt) and pepper to taste. Add marinade and mix in well. Cover and refrigerate.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over. Keep solids off the chicken for better browning. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes. Chicken is done when juices run clear yellow (not pink) when pricked with a fork at their thickest part.
- Transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.
- Chicken thighs stay moist for entertaining and reheating. I think using skinless allows the marinade to permeate the meat more effectively. Boneless cooks quickly, but bone-in is always great for flavor. For bone-in chicken pieces, this recipe makes 10 pounds, cooked at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes.
- You may cook the thighs a bit faster at 425 degrees F, as recommended by Faith Durand at the Kitchn. 400 degrees is a bit more forgiving if like me you tend to lose track of time.
- This is a strongly flavored dish, so it’s very forgiving to ingredient modification or substitution. You could use apple cider vinegar instead or red wine vinegar, or dried apricots for prunes. If you don’t have capers, use more olives, or vice versa. Dry vermouth is always a good substitute for white wine.
- Chicken Marbella is great served hot, room temperature or cold. Makes excellent picnic fare.
- Half-recipe for 6: 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (season with 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and pepper to taste), 5-6 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup pitted prunes, 1/4 cup pitted Spanish green olives, 1/4 cup capers with juice, 3 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/2 cup white wine, 2 tablespoons Italian parsley or cilantro.
Here’s the link to a printable version.
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