by Joan Saunders | photos by Amanda Cribdon Photography –
Over the years, I’ve learned to trust and often rely on some secret ingredients that hail from different countries and from a variety of regional cuisines: anchovies, balsamic vinegar, cardamon, lemon, Greek yogurt, vinegar, soy sauce, sriracha, harissa, horseradish and shallots, to name just a few. The secret ingredient in this dish? Prunes.
Yup. Prunes. I know; I can hear the snickers, as prunes are subject to many jokes about keeping you, well, “regular.” But prunes are a secret ingredient in classic French cooking and they’re fabulous in this recipe. Combined with the capers, the prunes help to create a luscious, delectable marinade with layers of rich flavour.
Prunes are also used to great effect in other French recipes, both savoury and sweet. There’s a wonderful dish with braised pork and prunes, as well as a French dessert called Far Breton. It combines prunes with rum in a rich, dense custard cake. Perfection.
I first had Chicken Marbella years ago at a friend’s house, bugged her for the recipe and since then it’s become a staple in our home. Not only does it taste fabulous: it’s also easy to make as you mix the marinade together the day before you’re going to serve it then, an hour prior to dinnertime, put the chicken in the baking dish and top it off with the final ingredients. The bonus? You need to add a cup of wine just before you cook it, so once the bottle’s open and dinner’s in the oven, isn’t it time for a little glass of vino?
The recipe does say to let the chicken rest in the seasonings overnight, but if there’s an issue with timing and you need to get the dish in the oven, two to three hours spent marinating the chicken in the fridge will work as well. You don’t need to tell anyone that it didn’t spend the whole night marinating! That can remain just between us.
The recipe also suggests that you should use bone-in chicken with the skin left on. If you’d prefer not to leave the skin on, that’s fine too. Over the years I’ve used chicken parts with the skin on as well as the skin off, and it’s always turned out beautifully. You do add more flavour if you use bone-in chicken, but that’s also a personal preference.
Recipes like this are perfect for rainy, autumn nights. There are also so many options if you’re not sure what to cook to go with Chicken Marbella. You might want to try mashed potatoes, a wild rice pilaf or a creamy risotto. As well, think about a lovely pan of assorted roasted vegetables or sautéed green beans. A spinach salad would add to the meal, as would asparagus roasted with lemon. Complete the menu with some rolls or a crusty baguette to help soak up the sauce and you’ve created a fabulous fall dinner.
And when people ask you what the sweet morsels are that pair so well with the chicken, you can say that it’s a secret ingredient. They’ll want to know, let me tell you, as this dish is truly delicious. And the answer? You can decide if you want to reveal that it’s prunes that they’re enjoying so much, one of the tastiest and most surprising of secret ingredients.
½ cup olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup pitted prunes
½ cup pitted olives (your choice, generally Spanish green olives are good, but I use whatever I have)
½ cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ cup dry oregano
¼ cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
5 lbs chicken pieces (thighs, breasts, legs) bone-in, skin on
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
Marinate the chicken: combine oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and parsley in a large bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat the meat in the marinade. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°. Arrange chicken pieces in a single layer in baking dish. Spoon the marinade over the top. Sprinkle on the brown sugar and pour the wine over top. Cook, uncovered, for about 50 minutes to one hour or until the juices from the meat are clear and not pink. Baste frequently. Serve with rice pilaf, mashed potatoes, mashed parsnips or roasted veggies.
Adapted and combined from:
And from my friend, Maureen. Thanks!