The first time I had Chicken Marbella, a stew of chicken, olives, capers, and dried fruit, a friend had brought it to a pot-luck dinner party I was hosting. I liked it so much my friend gave me the cookbook the recipe was in as a birthday present. That book, “The Silver Palate Cook Book” by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins is a classic and one I turn to again and again, especially for dinner party recipes. Rosso and Lukins were caterers, and like many of the recipes in the book, Chicken Marbella was designed to feed a crowd – it calls for four whole chickens! But, there really is no need to wait for a party to make it. Over the years, I have made Chicken Marbella many times, scaled down to portions more appropriate for a weeknight-dinner for a family of four, and of course I’ve also made a few tweaks to suite our tastes.
To make Chicken Marbella you start by making a marinade. The recipe calls for olive oil, vinegar, olives, capers, garlic, oregano, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and prunes. I don’t care for prunes, but the dried fruit is an essential part of the dish so for my version of this recipe, I replace them with dried apricots. Apricots not only pair extremely well with olives and capers, they also provide a lovely pop of orange color. As for the bay leaves, I rarely have them on hand, so I usually just leave them out.
After mixing all of the marinade ingredients together in a bowl, it is now time to add the chicken. To ensure even cooking, I prefer to use only chicken thighs. Thigh meat is perfect, as its richer flavor holds up extremely well with this robust sauce and unlike breast meat, which can easily dry out, stays moist when roasted.
I let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator at least 8 hours or overnight.
When I’m ready to bake the chicken, I preheat the oven to 180 C. I place the chicken in a single layer in a baking dish and pour the marinade around it. I always make sure the chicken is skin side up so that it gets crispy and brown. I then sprinkle the chicken with the sugar and pour in the wine.
For the sugar, this recipe calls for soft brown sugar which is not readily available in Switzerland. I typically stock up on brown sugar when in the US, but my kids prefer I save it for making chocolate chip cookies. The sauce really does need some sweetness to it, so although my version uses about half the amount of sugar as the original, you can’t just leave it out. If you have brown sugar and want to use it, it is preferred, but, if you don’t, I have found that plain white sugar works well enough.
I now place the chicken in the oven. At the 30 minute mark, I’ll check the chicken to make sure the apricots aren’t burning and to baste the chicken with the pan juices. If the apricots are browning too much, I just rearrange them in the sauce to expose another side. The chicken is done after about 40 to 50 minutes. The skin should be crisp and brown and juices from the thickest part of the chicken should run clear.
I usually serve the chicken over rice or egg noodles. Steamed green beans make a great side dish.
Chicken Marbella with Apricots
- 50 ml olive oil
- 50 ml red wine vinegar
- 100 g dried apricots
- 100 g green olives
- 65 g capers
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 dried bay leaves (optional)
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
- 50 g brown sugar (can substitute white sugar)
- 125 ml white wine
- Combine the olive oil, vinegar, apricots, olives, capers, garlic, oregano, bay leaves (if using), and salt and pepper in a large bowl.
- Add the chicken and stir to coat.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C (350°F)
- Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a large, shallow baking pan and spoon the marinade over it evenly.
- Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the sugar and pour the white wine around them.
- Bake, basting occasionally with the pan juices, until done, about 40 minutes to 50 minutes. When done, the skin should be crisp and brown and juices from the thickest part of the chicken should run clear.