Ottolenghi’s Chicken Marbella Is a Modern Take on the Comfort Classic

updated Jul 24, 2023
Kitchn Love Letters
Chicken Marbella

In this twist on the timeless recipe from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’s The Silver Palate cookbook, prunes are replaced with dates while date molasses lends a touch of sweetness.

Serves4 to 8

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chicken marbala in white baking dish
Credit: Photo: Riddley Schirm

When I was growing up, my parents didn’t cook very often. However, they did have a few stalwart dishes — the knock-out recipes they made for company, birthdays, or when a weeknight just called for something special. These included a five-cheese macaroni and cheese heavily adapted from Martha Stewart and, my favorite, chicken Marbella from the Silver Palate Cookbook.

I’ve always loved chicken Marbella. In fact, I think I like the dish’s warm olives; acidic, wine-forward sauce; and almost-stewed, soft prunes more than the chicken itself. Finding out we were having chicken Marbella for dinner was like a present.

And when I was in college, when my parents and I fought over my newfound freedom and our changing relationship, I’d make chicken Marbella to feel comfort and remind myself of all the love we had for one another, even when we could barely speak without yelling. It was the recipe I made when I felt I couldn’t go home, but so desperately wanted to. 

Preparing Yotam Ottolenghi’s Chicken Marbella

Fast-forward six years, when I made chicken Marbella for the first time for my mom and dad. But it wasn’t the Silver Palate recipe they knew — it was the one from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Simple. An homage to the original, Ottolenghi’s recipe calls for dates instead of prunes, lots of fresh oregano, and a touch of date molasses. And true to the cookbook’s name, it’s easy to make.

Just toss the chicken in a large bowl with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, herbs, olives, capers, and the dates. Ottolenghi suggests marinating the chicken for a day or two, but you can also cook it right away. The marinated chicken goes into a baking dish, gets drizzled with a mix of white wine and date molasses, and then bakes for about an hour.

A Blend of Old and New

I made one change: Instead of using the chicken legs the recipe calls for, I used an equal weight (3 pounds) of chicken thighs and drumsticks. It was perfect — the roasted, almost-sticky chicken thighs, the soft dates, the warm olives, all in a boozy, herbaceous sauce had me at first bite. And my parents? They said they *almost* liked it as much as the original, which is high praise, considering they’re people of tradition.

For me, the recipe is a combination of childhood comfort and some of the ingredients I’ve found I love as I’ve learned to cook for myself. And it’s that blend of old and new that makes this Ottolenghi recipe a favorite — one that I’ll make for years to come for myself, my husband, and, maybe one day, our kids.

Chicken Marbella

In this twist on the timeless recipe from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’s The Silver Palate cookbook, prunes are replaced with dates while date molasses lends a touch of sweetness.

Serves 4 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 8

    whole chicken legs (about 3 pounds total), skin scored a few times

  • 5 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 3/4 cup

    fresh oregano leaves, plus extra to serve

  • 3 tablespoons

    red wine vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1 cup

    pitted green olives

  • 6 tablespoons

    capers, plus 2 tablespoons caper brine

  • 4 1/2 ounces

    dried Medjool dates, pitted and quartered lengthwise

  • 2

    bay leaves

  • Salt and black pepper

  • 1/2 cup

    dry white wine

  • 1 tablespoon

    date molasses (or standard molasses)

    Instructions

    1. Place the chicken in a large nonreactive bowl and add the garlic, oregano, vinegar, oil, olives, capers, caper brine, dates, and bay leaves, along with 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of black pepper. Gently mix everything together, cover the bowl, and leave in the fridge to marinate for 1 to 2 days, stirring the ingredients a few times during the process.

    2. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

    3. Spread out the chicken legs on a medium high-sided baking pan, along with all the marinade ingredients. Whisk together the wine and molasses and pour over the meat. Place in the oven and cook for 50 minutes, basting two or three times, until the meat is golden brown on top and cooked through.

    4. Remove from the oven, transfer everything to a large platter, sprinkle with some oregano, and serve.

    Recipe Notes

    Reprinted with permission from Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi, copyright © 2018. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography credit: Jonathan Lovekin © 2018