Chicken Marbella makes nice Sunday dinner

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Family dinner with everyone present. That’s all a mother wants sometimes, isn’t it? With my daughter’s senior year coming to a close and the flurry of activity that comes with that (Prom! Grad Night! Awards Night! Graduation!), I’m missing our normal family dinnertime with everyone there.

Granted, the whirlwind of occasions is exciting, but that brings a lot of rushed meals or eating on the go. And frequently all of us eating separately and at different times. My goal a few weeks ago was to enjoy a lovely Sunday dinner with the family.

Remembering a dish I had made several years ago, I dug through my recipe box to find it. The dish is not a 30-minute meal, which you may remember has been my goal this year, but it is one worth the extra time.

The recipe comes from a friend of my brother. A quick look at the ingredients may leave you scratching your head. Vinegar and prunes? Brown sugar and capers? Whaaat?

An interesting ingredient in this recipe is the capers. When I hear the word caper, I usually think of its verb form which means to skip or dance about playfully. But the capers here are actually caper buds.

Prevalent in Mediterranean cuisine, salted and pickled capers are used as a seasoning or garnish in salads, meat dishes and pasta dishes.

Most fans of Italian cuisine will recognize capers as a prominent feature in entrees like Chicken Piccata and Spaghetti alla Puttanesca.

Capers are also a common garnish for fish dishes. They are served alongside cold smoked salmon and cured salmon (think bagels, lox, and cream cheese – yum!). Tartar sauce, something that accompanies many fish entrees, has capers as one of its main ingredients.

If you didn’t know, capers have a flavor profile that is intense: salty, vinegary, with hints of black pepper and mustard. It adds a bracing freshness to many foods.

In reading about the caper bush that the caper buds and berries grow on, I was interested to learn that the bush does well in semi-arid and arid climates with high daily temperatures, insufficient water, rocky areas and poor soil conditions.

Since those conditions kind of describe the big hill in my backyard where nothing seems to want to grow, I just might plant a caper bush, or two, or twelve back there.

This dish looks strange on paper but it is amazing in real time. Paired with brown rice, or some other whole grain, and a green vegetable, this chicken dish makes a dinner worthy of company or just a nice Sunday meal with all the family there.


Chicken Marbella

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
  • 1/2 cup capers, with a bit of juice
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and puréed
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano, chopped, or 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 chickens, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds each, quartered
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Combine the olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl or extra-large Ziploc bag. Add in the chicken pieces and turn to coat or close Ziploc and massage chicken to ensure all pieces are coated. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a shallow roasting pan, arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer and pour the marinade over it evenly. Pour the wine over the chicken and sprinkle each chicken piece with brown sugar. Bake chicken 50 to 60 minutes, basting with pan juices two or three times during cook time. Thigh pieces should yield clear juice when pricked with a fork to indicate doneness.

Place the chicken on a warmed serving platter and top with prunes, olives, and capers. Keep warm in an oven set at 200 degrees. Pour pan juices into a saucepan and bring to a boil, reducing juices to about half a cup. Strain juices and pour over the chicken. Top with chopped parsley.

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Betty Williams