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Chicken Marbella

The Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella is a fabulously retro dish bursting with Mediterranean flavour. The sweet, sour and salty combination of olives, capers, red wine vinegar, prunes and garlic has won fans for generations and for good reason - it’s delicious!

Some recipes become classics for a reason, outlasting fashions and trends to become firmly established favourites. Today’s recipe, is definitely one of those. Chicken Marbella, was created in the 1970s by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, the team behind the renowned Silver Palate cookbook published in 1982, and let me tell you, this famous chicken dish is as tasty today as it was when it was created.

What is Chicken Marbella?

Chicken Marbella is a simple recipe with big flavours. This famous dish is made from chicken pieces, marinated in a sweet and sour mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar, sweet prunes (more on this later), olives, briny capers, a few garlic cloves and loads of oregano.

After the chicken has marinated, it’s mixed with brown sugar and white wine and roasted in the oven to golden brown perfection. The ingredients might seem a little strange at first, but the end result is perfection.

Chicken Marbella

Hold up… did you say PRUNES?!

Yes! And hear me out. While prunes have fallen wildly out of fashion since their culinary heyday in the 70s (Devils on Horseback anyone?) they are actually delicious cooked in a recipe like this.

Not only do they soak up all the other fabulous flavours in the dish, but their sticky sweetness also makes for a seriously tasty sauce.

A Mediterranean flavour explosion

Despite actually being invented in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, Chicken Marbella is a dish of big, gutsy Mediterranean flavours with lots of contrasts going on.

The saltiness of the olives and capers pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the prunes, while the red wine vinegar and brown sugar make a gloriously sweet and sour sauce.

This recipe is Chicken Marbella updated

While the original Silver Palate Chicken Marbella recipe is insanely popular, I’ve made a few changes to this recipe to suit more modern tastes. The original recipe calls for a full cup of brown sugar (!) I think that this masks all the other flavours in the dish so I’ve reduced it quite dramatically.

If you find you’d like the chicken a little sweeter, it’s easier (and healthier) to drizzle over a little honey at the end. While this is a classic dish, tastes have changed a little in the intervening years.

Ideal for summer entertaining

Chicken Marbella is a lifesaver when it comes to summer entertaining. This is cooking at its most relaxed and despite originally being written for a catering company, it is ideal for home cooks.

All you need to do is marinate the chicken, (you can even do this the night before you are going to serve it), then the next day you can throw it in the oven an hour or two before dinner time.

It’s delicious served hot, but equally good cooled down to room temperature, so it is a great meal for those sultry summer nights when you’d rather be sitting outside than slaving over the stove. This is the ideal dinner party dish as everybody loves it.

Why is it called Chicken Marbella?

The million dollar question! The original Silver Palate recipe was definitely invented in New York, not Marbella as the name might suggest – though the combination of green olives, dried fruit and meat is common in southern Spain and Morocco, so this recipe certainly has a Mediterranean flair.

What to serve with Chicken Marbella?

Because the flavours in Chicken Marbella are so strong, it’s great to serve with something fairly plain. Think rice, couscous, orzo or just some good quality crusty bread. 

The trick is to keep it easy and low stress, just like this dish. In summer I am guaranteed to serve just about everything with a big green salad, so that would be perfect as a side dish.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I Hate prunes and won’t even consider using them. What can I substitute?

If the famous Chicken Marbella can’t convert you to prunes, then nothing can! I’d suggest swapping them out for another dried fruit like apricots to achieve the same effect, though I urge you to try them, you may have your mind changed forever!

If you won”t eat any dried fruit you could try fresh plums or even sweet seedless grapes. The dish needs something sweet and fruity in it to work.

Can I make Chicken Marbella in advance?

Yes, you certainly can! It is marvellous for preparing in advance. Just reheat in the oven at a medium heat, lightly covered in foil, then remove the foil toward the end of cooking to crisp up the skin a little. It’s just as good (if not better) the next day.

I don’t drink wine, can I leave it out of this recipe?

Of course. A mixture of half orange juice and half water adds a nice acidity and sweetness in place of wine.

CAN I MAKE CHICKEN MARBELLA WITH BONELESS OR SKINLESS CHICKEN THIGHS?

Yes, and it can actually be easier for a more elegant dinner to not serve bone-in meat (though this chicken is so tender it falls off the bone).

I’d recommend buying bone-in thighs and removing the bone yourself (or asking the butcher to do it for you) as boneless chicken thighs usually = skinless and you definitely want the chicken skin left on!

Another alternative is to cut up whole chickens (they did this in the original recipe) however I find the breasts tend to dry out a little. You can make this dish with skinless chicken thighs, but it does take some of the fun out of it.

Can I double or triple the recipe for Chicken Marbella?

Yes! Definitely! I’ve actually reduced this recipe from the original enormous portion. The fact that this recipe scales up so well makes it extremely popular for special occasions like Easter and Passover celebrations.

You’ll need to use multiple oven trays. I’d consider using the fan-bake setting and reducing the temperature by 10-15°C for best results.

Looking for more easy Chicken recipes?


Chicken Marbella

Chicken marbella is such a delicious combination of sweet, sour and salty – it’s utterly addictive!

Oven Roasted Chicken Marbella with prunes, capers, olives in a rich and flavoursome sauce
Oven Roasted Chicken Marbella with prunes, capers, olives in a rich and flavoursome sauce
This chicken is SO tender, it just falls off the bone!

COOKING CHICKEN THIGHS

Chicken thighs are one of the most forgiving cuts of meat to cook in the oven. Even if they have been overcooked, chicken thighs are likely to stay tender and juicy, so it is a great meat for beginner cooks.

How long to cook chicken thighs at 350°F / 180°C?

Chicken thighs will cook at this temperature in around 40-45 minutes, but will be more tender at 60 minutes. Bone-in chicken thighs may take a little longer if they are very large. Smaller, boneless thighs will cook a few minutes faster.

As stated above, chicken thigh meat is very forgiving so it is likely to stay moist and juicy even if a little overcooked. A higher internal temperature can actually make chicken thighs more tender as the connective tissue begins to break down into gelatine as the meat cooks!

How to tell if chicken thighs are cooked?

A lot of people are worried about raw chicken, but it is really very simple. If you insert the tip of a sharp knife into the chicken thigh at the thickest part, any juices should run clear. If you cook to the times given in this recipe you won’t have a problem at all.

If you are at all uncertain, I recommend using an instant read thermometer. Chicken is cooked at an internal temperature of 74°C / 165°F, however with chicken thighs on the bone they will still be a bit tough. Bone in chicken meat is best cooked hotter, anywhere between 80° and 90°C (175-195°F) for the most tender results.

Remember, if it is at all possible, let meat on the bone warm up towards room temperature before cooking. This means that it will cook more evenly and you won’t have to worry that it is under done toward the bone.

DINNER PARTY PRO TIP

Having a dinner party? Use boneless chicken thighs for this dish. Even though chicken thighs are more flavoursome with the bone in, they are easier for your guests to manage if they are boneless.

CHICKEN MARBELLA RECIPE

Chicken Marbella

Chicken Marbella

Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Marinating Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

The Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella is a fabulously retro main course, bursting with Mediterranean flavour. The sweet, sour and salty combination of olives, capers, red wine vinegar, prunes and garlic has won fans for generations and for good reason - it’s delicious!

Ingredients

for the marinade:

  • 60ml (¼ cup) olive oil
  • 60ml (¼ cup) red wine vinegar
  • 150g (3/4 cup) prunes, pitted
  • 100g (¾ cup) large green olives, pitted
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3 Tbsp capers in brine
  • 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • 2 tsp sea or kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 ½ kg (3 lb.) chicken thigh pieces, skin on and bone-in, excess skin trimmed
  • freshly ground black pepper

to cook:

  • 125ml (½ cup) dry white wine
  • 3 Tbsp soft brown sugar

to serve:

  • small bunch of fresh parsley, diced

Instructions

  1. MAKE THE MARINADE: Stir together all of the marinade ingredients, then add to a ziplock bag with the chicken. Seal, then massage to make sure the chicken is completely covered and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to overnight).
  2. COOK: Heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas 4. Pour the chicken and marinade into a large oven-proof dish or roasting pan and arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer with the skin side facing up. Pour over the white wine, scatter over the brown sugar and pat gently onto the chicken. Roast in the preheated oven for 60 minutes until the skin is crisp and golden brown.
  3. PREPARE THE SIDES: While this chicken is cooking, prepare your sides. Rice, couscous, bulgur or bread are all delicious. A crisp green salad is ideal to serve alongside.
  4. SERVE: When the chicken has cooked, allow to cool for a few minutes, then scatter over plenty of fresh parsley and transfer to a serving platter or divide between warmed plates with plenty of sauce. It's nice to add a few spoonfuls of pan juices too.

Notes

When I reheat Chicken Marbella to serve the following day or later, I always add a tablespoon of fresh capers and a little drizzle of red wine vinegar just before serving. It lifts the flavours of the dish beautifully.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 2 thighs
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 239Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 62mgSodium: 1412mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 1gSugar: 8gProtein: 12g

Nutrition information is calculated automatically and isn’t always accurate.

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Jay Wadams
Jay Wadams

Jay Wadams is a cookbook author and food photographer. Jay is the author of two cookbooks: 'Tasty' (2017) and 'Simply Summer' (2019). Based in Italy 🇮🇹 Germany 🇩🇪 and Australia 🇦🇺.

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