January 21, 2008

spanish chicken in my kitchen

There are moments in life that stop you cold - not including January in Canada.
Moments when grace fills your life, and if you're lucky you can feel it.
I'm surrounded by grace - women and men whose spirits anchor me in place - whose support cradles me - whose generosity inspires me.

When Charlie Rose asked Ruth Reichl what elevates a good cook into a great cook - you could sense he was looking for an answer like technique, experience, the love of risk. She said generosity.

And I was thrilled - because that is what cooking is to me - a place to let my heart out and let it nourish others. I felt if we ever met, I'd be understood.

The graces in my life got together and cooked for me a while ago. Five women, one kitchen, five recipes, one freezer.

Nic worked on one counter making her famous mushroom soup. Jain slaved at the stove over shepherd's pie. Karen got to the oven early to bake macaroni and cheese. Carol, being the host, had already made vegetarian chili. And the recipe I'll share today came with Naomi - who has made chicken marbella many times - and a few times for Steve and I.

It is a classic that comes from, once again, the Silver Palate Cookbook - it was in fact the first entree they offered their customers.

When Naomi wrote me the recipe she added, "I just wing-ed it (as it were) because instead of 4 chickens, I used 6 legs-plus-thighs.. Also, I deleted the olives (for the sake of Sir Steve)... And I didn’t puree the garlic, I used one of those hardware-grater thingees..."

It seems a versatile dish - with sweetness and saltiness in balance. It can be an appetizer or main - and while they recommend you serve it at room temperature, there are some climates and times when hot is where it's at. And having just put the plastic over the bedroom window to cut the draft - I know it's January again. We froze the chicken in individual portions (in the freezer, not on the window sill, if you're wondering), thawed it carefully and warmed it in the oven.

For you, with grace - Chicken Marbella, adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

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 finely puréed
1⁄4 cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 chickens (2 1⁄2 pounds each), quartered
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup dry white wine
1⁄4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight. (The marinating is essential, don't skimp on the time.)

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

3. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the brown sugar and pour the white wine around them.

4. Bake, basting frequently with the pan juices, until the thigh pieces yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice when pricked with a fork, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

5. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with the parsley or cilantro. Pass the remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.

16 pieces, 10 or more portions

Note from Silver Palate: "To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temperature in the cooking juices before transferring the pieces to a serving platter. If the chicken has been covered and refrigerated, reheat it in the juices, then allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juice over the chicken."

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