created at: 2013-03-21

My mom is a skilled hostess. She’s a great conversationalist, she likes to work a room, and she has a paralyzing fear of not providing her guests with enough to eat. Don’t be fooled by her “Oh, I have nothing in the house” act when unexpected visitors drop by; she’ll have a full spread of dips and cheeses on the table before they can hang up their coats.

This fear may sound more like a clinical issue than a social skill, but it certainly comes in handy when hosting a Passover dinner. Last year, for example, my mom decided that it wasn’t enough to serve brisket and salmon as the main courses. She wanted to add a third entrée to the menu. I recommended Chicken Marbella, a classic dish that can be prepared ahead of time and made to serve a hungry crowd.

Chicken Marbella was introduced to the world by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso in their Silver Palate Cookbook, named for their gourmet takeout and catering shop in Manhattan that essentially kicked off the specialty food business. The book was published in 1979 and sold a record-breaking 250,000 copies in its first year. And Chicken Marbella was one of its most popular recipes. Since then, it’s been a staple in many home cooks’ repertoires.

And ever since Passover of last year, Chicken Marbella has been one of my mom’s favorite dishes as well. The procedure doesn’t get much easier: Just throw everything in a bowl to marinate overnight, then transfer it to an oven-proof pan right before your guests arrive. The combination of prunes, capers, and olives may sound odd, but they work so well together you may forget about the other main dishes altogether—no matter how many there may be.

Chicken Marbella
From The Silver Palate Cookbook

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Below is the original recipe. When I prepared it, I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of whole chickens. If using breasts instead of bone-in pieces, cook until instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees when poked into the thickest part of breast, about 45 minutes.

4 chickens, 2½ pounds each, quartered
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
¼ cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
½ cup pitted Spanish green olives
½ cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
¼ cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

1. In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

3. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice.

4. With a slotted spoon, 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.

5. To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temperature in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter. If chicken has been covered and refrigerated, allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juices over chicken.