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Chicken Marbella, Not Chicken Marsala

I’m honored to be hosting a friend’s upcoming, significant birthday party.

It’s a good thing I love a culinary challenge, because the party girl requests we work the menu around some guests’ dietary restrictions. Our goal:  Prepare delicious appetizers and desserts that are both gluten- and dairy-free, oh, and we need to lean a bit more toward vegetarian dishes.

I’m so grateful she didn’t say sugar-free. (I’m also open to your recipe suggestions.)

I already know I will prepare one of my top favorite recipes, Chicken Marbella, from my beloved 32-year-old Silver Palette Cookbook.

I hate to sound like an old-timey housewife when I say this, but I swear, I never make Chicken Marbella that someone doesn’t ask  beg for the recipe.

At the very least they ask what’s in it, which is always entertaining, just to see the expressions on faces when I start ticking off the ingredients: Prunes. Capers. Spanish olives. A boatload of fresh garlic and dried oregano. Red wine vinegar. Brown sugar. White wine. Olive oil. Salt and pepper.

I think it’s the prunes that surprise people most, but don’t even think of omitting them, because the dish wouldn’t taste the same. Before baking the chicken, you sprinkle it with brown sugar and then pour the white wine over it. The aroma while it bakes will drive you crazy. It’s just that good. It’s a Mediterranean dish that makes its own sauce that’s so  good that you’ll want to eat it with a spoon.

The other thing I love about Chicken Marbella (not to be confused with Chicken Marsala – an entirely different dish) is that it can be an appetizer, made with wings or drumettes. Or it can be an entree made with thighs (I’m not a fan of chicken breasts), served with a salad.  Or, for some event that requires something bigger than a bite-sized appetizer, but not as substantial as dinner, I’d go for the drumsticks.

Drumsticks must have been meant to be, because what do you know, chicken drumsticks, 69 cents a pound in a family pack – are featured this week’s Tops Markets March into Savings ad.

I started to say it was perfect timing, but any time is good to buy chicken when it’s 69-cents a pound. When was the last time you saw any meat priced that low? I seriously can’t remember.

Thank God for freezers, because you can bet I’ll stock up on the drumsticks.

But I’ll also fill my basket with a few other Tops Markets specials, like the pre-sliced, shoulder roast lamb for $4.99 a pound. (Lamb is my favorite meat, and I’m intrigued by the pre-sliced part.)

Also, I’ll load up on the 4-5 lb. sacks of IGA flour and sugar, five for $10. Unbelievable. I can’t use the flour to prepare birthday-party food, but I’ll bag it up and keep it in a dry, dark place for a day when I’m cooking for my gluten-loving guests.

Two more pointers about Chicken Marbella: First, it requires marinating, at least 8 hours, so plan on that.

Second, the recipe includes 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of white wine, but you’ll notice I’ve buried mention if those two far down in the recipe. This is to protect you from making the mistake (as many have done before you) of adding those two ingredients in the marinade, when they are needed for the baking. This mistake results in much cursing, but worse yet, it totally changes the taste of the dish, and not in a good way.

You’ll see what I mean when you read the recipe.

In the meantime, here’s the Chicken Marbella recipe. Trust me, once you make peace with the prunes, you will love it.

Chicken Marbella

8 lbs chicken drumsticks (may also use thighs, wings, drumsticks, etc.)
1 head garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers, with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves

STOP HERE

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro

Combine all the ingredients listed before STOP HERE in a leak-proof plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight, or for 8 hours.

When you are ready to bake the chicken, reserve the marinade and arrange the chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and pour the marinade over the chicken evenly.

Now sprinkle the chicken with the brown sugar. Pour the white wine around the chicken.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently.

Chicken is done when meat is pricked with a fork and juices run clear, not pink.

With a slotted spoon transfer the chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro.

Pass the remaining sauce in a sauce boat.

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. Spoon some of the reserved juice over the chicken.

Serves 10 or more

Recipe adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook. 

This recipe sponsored by Tops Market in Weaverville and Redding.

Click here to receive weekly emailed Tops Market ad specials.

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Click here to order a sandwich online from the Redding Tops Market.

Click here to order a sandwich online from the Weaverville Tops Market.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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