Cook the Book: Get a Taste of American Cooking in the 80’s with The Silver Palate’s Chicken MarbellaJanuary 9, 2017
In Cook the Book, we test whether iconic recipes, old and new, work well today and with ingredients available locally.
Today I’ll be taking on the 80’s American classic: The Silver Palate Cookbook, based on the offerings of the eponymous food store owned by caterer Sheila Lukins and marketing executive Julee Rosso.
The Silver Palate was a small New York shop in the late 70’s—one which radically, at the time, offered takeout food options that were simple yet elegant, freshly prepared, and a notch above what customers would find elsewhere. Think poppy-seed dressing, pate de campagne, and tomato-basil montrachet: flavors and dishes that are more common these days, but unheard of at the time. The shop helped serve as the gateway toward ingraining these then-unfamiliar, then-groundbreaking “gourmet” food items into the everyday customers’ consciousness.
With the success of the business, it didn’t take long before Lukin and Rosso would author their very own cookbook featuring their creations. It was a hit, topping the bestseller lists and soon changing the ways of mainstream American home cooking. In an era where cooks wanted something more special than, say, sloppy joe’s or tuna casserole with canned mushroom soup, but without the fuss or complication of Julia Child’s four page-long recipe for chicken fricasee, The Silver Palate Cookbook provided a happy medium: an elevated yet accessible approach to cooking and entertaining. Food previously considered foreign or intimidating, like pesto (yes, pesto) or tarragon-chicken salad, were suddenly within reach.
Among Lukin and Rosso’s most well-known entrees—the first main-course dish to have been offered at the shop, and a perennial favorite ever since—is Chicken Marbella. With a curious combination of vinegar, olive oil, capers, olives, garlic, bay leaves, brown sugar, white wine, and prunes (!)—taking influence from Spanish, Moroccan, and Jewish cuisines—it’s not hard to see how the dish intrigues. It has received its share of praise and accolades over the years, eventually being featured in the 2005 cookbook hit The New American Cooking and dubbed a “Jewish holiday and Shabbat dinner favorite” by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Save for having to ‘purée’ the garlic (which can be done with a knife) and cut the chicken into quarters (which you can either have your butcher do, or you can substitute for pre-cut quarters), this recipe is straightforward in procedure with impressive results. Soak the chicken overnight in a vinaigrette-like marinade, bake in the oven, and served with its pan sauce. The overnight marination keeps the meat moist, and the flavor profile—a frolicsome tangle of sweet, tangy, herb-y, and pungent—is at once complex, but comforting. (The mix of vinegar, garlic, and bay leaves in the marinade also brings to mind Filipino adobo, given a fruitier mediterranean spin.)
A few takeaways from my attempts at this recipe: the “sauce” formed from the chicken juices and the marinade were a tad too watery for my liking, so I’d take a page from The New York Times’ adaption and reduce it to a thicker consistency. Though the original calls for dried oregano, it’s worth seeking out the fresh stuff if you can find it; it provides a remarkable fragrance and additional zing that bottled herbs cannot capture. Finally, the chicken tastes better the next day, when all the flavors have had time to marry in the fridge. This went great with roasted potatoes, but there is no reason not to serve this with steaming-hot rice.
Adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook
Yield: 16 pieces, 10 or more portions
Time: 10 hours (30 mins prep/overnight marination/50-60 mins cooking)
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup prunes, pitted
- ½ cup Spanish green olives, pitted
- ½ cup capers, with a bit of juice
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 head garlic, peeled and finely pureed
- ¼ cup dried oregano
- coarse salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 chickens (2½ lb each), quartered
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup dry white wine
- ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
- 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.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.