I have it in front of me: The original Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins first published by Workman in 1979.
Oh, the memories it brings back. Mostly of being part of the baby-boom generation and of trying to have it all: a career, motherhood, feminism, home-making, looking good in tight bell-bottoms – the list goes on. It was the era of superwoman and a challenging one I realize looking back.
But perhaps paramount in my social set was being the queen of the dinner party who knew how to entertain and, even more important, how to cook a mean meal. Martha Stewart was breaking on to the scene and, even though we joked about her status as a role model for home-making perfection, it was hard to be immune.
So we cooked and we entertained – and then did it some more.
I recall almost falling under the table at the home of friends after dining on rich, gooey cheese fondue robustly laced with kirsch and wine. There was rabbit lusciously braised in red wine spiked with juniper berries prepared by a couple I knew. And yummy, crisp Veal Milanese savoured at another such soiree.
With a degree in languages (Russian and French) under my belt and no job prospect in sight as an interpreter at the U.N. (naturally, I say that in jest), I found myself in Toronto in the mid-1970s with a husband (now ex) and daughter Esther (now 41) in tow.
Happily and accidentally, I lucked into work for Toronto Life magazine as a freelance restaurant reviewer. Then, in 1983 – again, mostly by luck – I was hired as the first food editor at the Toronto Sun.
In 1989, I was wooed away to the Toronto Star where I spent 18 action-packed years as the food editor and then weekly columnist.
Enter the famous Chicken Marbella of my early culinary efforts. And re-enter The Silver Palate Cookbook, the first of several books by the same authors, in which that famous recipe appeared and rapidly became a hit with all and sundry.
I have that trusty cookbook to thank for my cooking experience, in particular trademark dishes of the era that I turned out a rapid rate: Bouillabaisse, Chicken Liver Pate with Green Peppercorns, Beef Carbonnade and Carrot Cake. I have that book to thank for the confidence required to cook for others. I have that book to thank for Chicken Marbella, which I have prepared at intervals – tweaking the recipe as I went – for more than 30 years.
And what a coincidence. I had just tried a new and, I must say, its best rendition when The Cookbook Store in downtown Toronto announced its 30th anniversary celebrations happening this month.
It appeared in a magazine put out by the tireless folk at Cook’s Illustrated with the irresistible title: The Best of America’s Test Kitchen.
Chicken Marbella is basically a twist on the Middle Eastern dish Tagine and is chicken prepared with olives, capers and prunes. It is strong-flavoured but the flavours all complement each other: salty, sour and sweet. This explains its popularity and its staying power.
This version combines those key ingredients into a paste that is smeared on the chicken which is then marinated and is much easier than the original.
This recipe is my toast to The Cookbook Store’s 30th anniversary. Thank you Alison, Jennifer and all the others who’ve made your wonderful store the perfect place to celebrate food and cooking in Toronto for all these years.
America’s Test Kitchen Chicken Marbella
I used some chicken breasts along with boneless thighs, with great results. I substituted about a teaspoon of anchovy paste for anchovies. I haven’t included the 2 bay leaves in the recipe – I feel they’re redundant. The paste can be made ahead and refrigerated.
1/3 cup pitted green olives, minced
1/3 cup pitted prunes
3 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
3 anchovy fillets, rinsed
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 1/2 to 3 lb (about 1 1/2 kilos) chicken parts (thighs, breasts)
2 tsp olive oil
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup pitted green olives, rinsed and halved
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
1/3 cup pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 400F.
For paste, pulse all ingredients together in food processor until finely chopped. Scrape down bowl; pulse until almost smooth. Transfer to bowl.
For chicken, pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to large plate. Drain all but 1 teaspoon of fat from skillet; reduce heat to medium-low.
Add 1/3 cup paste to skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in stock, wine, olives and capers, scraping up any browned bits. Return chicken, skin side up, to skillet; transfer to oven. Roast, uncovered, 15 minutes.
Remove skillet from oven. Use back of spoon to spread remaining paste over chicken. Sprinkle prunes around chicken. Return to oven; roast until paste begins to brown and chicken is cooked through, 7 to 12 minutes.
Transfer chicken to warmed serving platter. Whisk butter and vinegar into sauce in skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley.
Makes about 4 to 6 servings.