Beautiful Sea Chicken — A Christmas Eve Dish

Dinner at my house. Photo by Cindy Dyer

What? I just made up my own translation for Chicken Marbella. Isn’t “mar” the Spanish word for sea, or “de mare” in Italian? Isn’t “bella” the Spanish and Italian word for beautiful? I know it doesn’t really fit but it’s the best I can do. I’m feeling like I want Chicken Marbella to mean something more since it’s one of my favorite dishes to prepare and serve.

One of my favorite recipes is once again from the Silver Palate Cookbook, page 87, in the chapter titled “Main Course, Chicken Every Way.” I like to make this dish in the wintertime. It’s savory with a touch of sweet and it is comfort food at its best showing.

Last Friday, the weekend before Christmas, was the perfect time to have Cindy Dyer (the one who photographs a lot of my food) and her husband Michael for dinner. The house is decorated for Christmas and everyone is in a party mood. The evening’s menu would also make a tasty Christmas Eve dinner if you are looking for ideas.

The Menu

This is a simple menu to pull off and you won’t spend all your time in the kitchen. The chicken is marinated at least a day ahead. Prepare salad and mix right before serving. Do things like toast the pine nuts and chop herbs before guests arrive. Of course, set the table a day or two ahead (so you have to time to play around with your tablescape).

Spinach salad with fresh strawberries with poppy seed dressing: The green leaves and red berries served in a glass salad bowl look festive. A poppy seed dressing complements the berries. Buy a good bottled dressing or make your own.

Focaccia bread: my recipe is here

Chicken Marbella: recipe below

Sautéed haricots verts: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan, cook beans until tender. Squeeze with fresh lemon and salt and pepper to taste. I get these fresh, delicate beans at Trader Joes.

Rice with toasted pine nuts: cook basmati rice according to directions, season with salt and pepper. Add toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley. Toast pine nuts under the broiler with a little olive oil. Don’t walk away, they burn fast (ahem).

Dessert: assorted cookies including Cognac Sugarplums (my last blog post), peanut butter cup cookies (mom’s recipe) and Trader Joe’s oatmeal/cranberry white chocolate dunkers

Bring it all together in a spirit of hospitality and a festive table and you have a tiny party! Don’t forget the Boggle game for after dinner.

Chicken Marbella

The overnight marination is essential to the moistness of the finished product. The chicken keeps and improves over several days in the refrigerator. Since Chicken Marbella is such a spectacular party dish, they give quantities to serve 10 or 12, but it is easily divided to make smaller amounts. This recipe calls for chicken with bones. Of course, bones add flavor but I have successfully adapted it to use boneless chicken breasts. You just have to watch you don’t cook it too long. If you make the whole amount below, about 50 minutes is plenty depending on the thickness of the chicken. Enjoix the beautiful sea chicken!

  • 4 chickens, 2-1/2 pounds each, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • Course salt and freshly ground black 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
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian or cilantro
  1.  In large bowl combine chicken, garlic, oregano, pepper and salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Arrange chicken in single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
  4. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice. (Don’t overcook boneless breasts.)
  5. With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley. Pass remaining juices in a sauceboat.

16 pieces, 10 or more portions

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2 thoughts on “Beautiful Sea Chicken — A Christmas Eve Dish

  1. It was a really wonderful meal—the woman can cook! She is the hostess with the mostess! We topped off the evening with several rounds of Bongo, which I had never played. Never mind that Barbara and I tied for LAST place. It was a really fun game and a really wonderful evening. Thank you for hosting us!

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