The Silver Palate Cookbook is one of the top 10 best-selling cookbooks of all time. Sheila Lukins and her business partner, Julee Rosso, wrote it two years after they opened one of the nation’s first gourmet takeout shops of the same name in New York City. The book helped demystify and popularize gourmet cooking for millions of home cooks upon its publication in 1982 and continues to do so today. It is considered THE American cookbook of the Eighties. I don’t know anyone who doesn't have a dog-eared, sauce-splattered copy of it in their kitchen arsenal. The recipes are innovative and accessible at the same time, using unique combinations of ingredients and advocating rich and bold flavors with a Mediterranean flair.
Chicken Marbella was perhaps the most popular main dish served at the store and perhaps the main reason most of us bought the book in the first place (but not the only!).The melange of ingredients in this recipe — chicken pieces, olives, capers, apricots and prunes with cilantro, garlic, oregano and brown sugar cooked in white wine — was so enticingly different from the standard dinner-party fare of the day that it was a sensation every time it appeared on the menu. Slightly exotic, the dish won over home cooks because it looked beautiful, tasted and smelled heavenly, and, perhaps most important, it was simple to make. You could just throw all the ingredients into a Pyrex casserole dish and marinade overnight, then bake for about an hour. It was, and still is, foolproof.
Sheila Lukins invented the dish in her pre-Silver Palate days, she said, when she was catering for single men in New York.
“I needed stuff that could be put together, marinated and then baked off the next day,” she recalled in a phone interview.
Lukins liked to cook sweet and savory dishes, like those she sampled on her travels in Spain and Morocco.
“That combination of fruits and olives, brown sugar and wine, it was just kind of a natural for me,” she said. “But it was very unusual here. It was shocking.”
Once the cookbook was published, the Chicken Marbella turned up at dinner parties and picnics (it’s good at room temperature, too) all over the nation. The cookbook went on to sell 2.5 million copies and it is still going strong with a Silver Edition published a short time ago. I own that one too.
Sheila Lukins died last August, at age 66, of brain cancer. Here's to you Sheila and thanks for the memories!
Makes about 10 servings
4 chickens, 2½ pounds each, quartered, or 16 pieces, breasts, thighs, drumsticks
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
¼ cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup dried apricots (optional)
½ cup pitted Spanish green olives
½ cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
¼ cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
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.
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 or cilantro. Pass remaining juices in a sauceboat.
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 chicken.
— From “The Silver Palate” (Workman, 1982)