Monday, November 1, 2010

Manita's Chicken Marbella

My dear friend Manita made this dish, Chicken Marbella, for one of her famous dinner parties quite a few years ago. She loves to entertain — the more people the better. The challenge was always fitting her huge group of friends into her small 600 square foot apartment, which usually meant stringing together a great number of odd shaped tables from one end of the apartment to the other. Dinner would be cosy, but always great fun — Manita made sure of that! 

A generous host, she is also a fabulous cook. Chicken Marbella was one of her indispensable recipes for entertaining large parties of guests. Conveniently, the ingredients marinate overnight, which intensifies their fabulous flavours, and makes the final cooking step the next day a breeze. The dish bursts with flavour and the presentation is spectacular — a festive assortment of colourful dried apricots and prunes, bright green olives, piquant capers and aromatic cilantro. Manita served the dish with Nutted Wild Rice, perfect for soaking up all the flavourful juices. 

Her recipe for Chicken Marbella and Nutted Wild Rice was inspired by Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso and their amazing cookbook – The Silver Palate — which was, and still is, one of my favourite and most thumbed-through cookbooks. It's been much too long since I've seen Manita, who has since moved to Miami, but all I have to do is make her Chicken Marbella, and I'm transported back 20 years trying to find my spot at her dinner table, wedged somewhere between my friend Paul's canvas and a stack of Bon Appétit magazines. 

Chicken Marbella
Serves 10-12

4 Chickens, 2.5 lb each, quartered
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely puréed
1/4 cup dried oregano
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

  1. In a large bowl combine chicken pieces, garlic, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, apricots, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let marinate refrigerated overnight. 
  2. Preheat oven to 350°
  3. Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two shallow cooking dishes and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and  and pour white wine around them.
  4. Bake for 50-60 minutes, basting frequently with the pan juices. Chicken is done when the thigh pieces are done.
  5. With a slotted spoon transfer the chicken , prunes, apricots, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a spoonful or two of pan juices and sprinkle with cilantro. Pass the remaining juices in a sauceboat.
  6. 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, and spoon some of the reserved juice over the chicken. Yum-yum.