Chicken Marbella

Two of my best pals slipped quietly out of Gatwick heading for Malaga just before Lockdown 2. They’d planned an extended stay ages ago – nine or ten weeks – ostensibly to write but so far, they’re having the luck of great weather and what sounds like a beach holiday. The food they tell us about, the fish market, the butcher, the fruit and veg and the tapas makes me want to jump on a plane and join them. The other night, post a zoom call, Chicken Marbella popped into my mind. I don’t know why it is so called, but it’s a dish I first discovered at my erstwhile agent’s house cooked by his wife. The recipe, it turned out, is a regular favourite for dinner parties and I can see why. It’s made ahead, requires no fiddling around and doesn’t even involve chopping onions. Apart from an essential overnight marinade, it is blessedly simple to make and vaguely related to a Moroccan tagine. The recipe dates back to the early days of The Silver Palate, Manhattan’s celebrated gourmet food shop. A party recipe using four chickens appears in The Silver Palate Cook Book, first published in 1979 but as they say and I discovered, it adapts easily for less. Chicken portions are marinaded in red wine vinegar with crushed garlic, oregano, olive oil, green olives, pitted prunes and capers, then roasted in the marinade with white wine and a hint of brown sugar. The chicken pieces end up succulent, the prunes soft and swollen with cooking juices, the green olives and capers providing an unexpected sweet and sour note. It’s torture eking out some of each to go with every mouthful. I served it with jacket potatoes cooked at the same time; you’ll find my super-quick, ever perfect recipe here: lamb chops, diamond jackets and minted pea puree.

Serves 4
Prep: 25 min plus 24 hour marinade
Cook: 50 minutes

4 organic chicken legs or 8 bone-in thighs
4 large garlic cloves
1 tbsp dried oregano
100ml red wine vinegar
100ml olive oil
16 pitted prunes
75g pitted green olives
1 heaped tbsp capers
2 bay leaves
150ml white wine
4 tbsp brown sugar
25g bunch coriander or flat leaf parsley

Joint the legs and remove the skin and any pockets of fat. Peel, chop and crush the garlic to a paste with ½ (half) tsp salt. Place the garlic in a spacious, shallow bowl and mix in the oregano, vinegar and olive oil. Add the prunes, olives, capers and bay leaves, then immerse the chicken. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in spacious, shallow roasting tin and spoon over the marinade. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour the wine around them. Bake, draped with pierced foil, for 50-60 minutes, basting a couple of times with pan juices, until the juices run clear when pierced at the thickest part. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices. Chop the coriander or parsley leaves and scatter over the top. Pass the remaining pan juices in a jug. To serve cold, leave to cool in the cooking juices before transferring to a platter. Spoon juices over the top. Good with boiled potatoes and green beans.