Last Sunday, a pioneer in the American culinary world died. Sheila Lukins, the creative master behind The Silver Palate cookbooks and The Silver Palate gourmet store in New York City, introduced me to pine nuts, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and pasta primavera when I first became interested in cooking.
Sheila graduated from the Cordon Bleu School in London. Back in New York, she began a catering business aimed primarily at bachelors. She was their ‘little woman in the kitchen’ and her motto was “So discreet, so delicious and I deliver!” She later met Julee Russo, an accomplished cook herself, who was ready to leave the corporate life and start her own business. The two opened a tiny shop called The Silver Palate that produced simply prepared but delicious food ready for entertaining or an impromptu picnic. Using only high quality ingredients, their food was an artful balance of color, texture and flavor, and also a feast for the eyes!
Through her unique cookbooks, Lukins (with Russo) helped me understand gourmet cooking. The Silver Palate Cookbook and The New Basics Cookbook include easy-to-follow recipes based on authentic European cuisine. Every page is peppered with a menu suggestion, a quote, historical fact or a valuable tip on how to entertain like a pro. Sheila’s whimsical illustrations complement the clear-cut recipes. Some of my favorites include Roast Lamb with Peppercorn Crust (my friend Chantal still talks about the time I served her that one!), Chicken Liver Pate with Green Peppercorns, Wild Mushroom Soup, Carrot Cake and a fabulous Bread Pudding accompanied by a very ‘adult’ sauce (think whiskey!).
Sheila’s All Around the World Cookbook includes recipes from her travels to 33 countries. I continued to learn from her for 23 years through her Simply Delicious column in Parade magazine (the one that comes in the Sunday paper) where she succeeded Julia Child as food editor in 1986.
Chicken Marbella is a recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook that became the signature dish at the Manhattan store. I imagine it’s being made in many kitchens this week. I recently left a batch marinating for Favorite Son and his roommate, Sam. The evening they roasted it, he texted me that “The chicken was delicious. I was just ripping it apart then eating it from the bone!”
From The Silver Palate Cookbook:
This was the first main-course dish to be offered at The Silver Palate, and the distinctive colors and flavors of the prunes, olives and capers have kept it a favorite for years. It’s good hot or at room temperature. When prepared with small drumsticks and wings, it makes a delicious hors d’oeuvre.
The overnight marination is essential to the moistness of the finished product: the chicken keeps and even improves over several days of refrigeration; it travels well and makes excellent picnic fare.
Since Chicken Marbella is such a spectacular party dish, we give quantities to serve 10 to 12, but the recipe can successfully be divided to make a smaller amount if you wish.
Yields 16 pieces, 10 or more portions
4 chickens, 2 ½ pounds each, quartered
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely puréed
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 (I also like to add dates, dried cherries and dried figs)
½ cup pitted Spanish green olives (I add a few Kalamatas as well)
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, coarse salt, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. 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 pan 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.
Following the advice from Sheila’s Silver Palate Notebook:
Successful flavoring depends on many things. To appreciate this fully you must experiment…..Next time combine meat with fresh fruit. You may feel the need to experiment with small batches at first; as your confidence and your palate develop, you will learn to create boldly, trusting in the results. You will be a cook.
To my Chicken Marbella I added some dried cherries, kalamata olives, fresh oregano from the garden, and peeled and cubed potatoes 20 minutes before the end of the roasting period.
Thanks, Sheila, for teaching me how to entertain, for expanding my horizons, and for giving me confidence in the kitchen. I cherish your recipes and thank you for sharing them with us. You will be missed!