Chicken Marbella

How long do capers last in the refrigerator?  No need to answer; it’s a rhetorical question.  In fact, I am going to provide you with some advice on that topic that I found onFood52.com:

“I’m hoping that kinda forever is the right answer… They’re [capers] packed in a strongly acidic brine, which as long as they’re refrigerated, protects them against spoilage.”

“I’m pretty sure capers have a fridge-life of a thousand years … I bought one of those Costco bottes once (4 years ago) and still have 3/4 of it. They still taste lake capers.”

And, here’s a winner from Chowhound.com:

“They will last quite a while. I tend to get a little leery when the black specks start to form on them.”

Based on the extensive research above, I decided that I would further investigate the bottle of capers that’s been a permanent fixture in the far back of the middle shelf of my refrigerator for the past four years (ever since I used a teaspoon of the briny pea-shaped critters in a recipe for red snapper). Holding the bottle up to the light, I carefully examined the contents and could detect no obvious signs of mold.

Now that I believed I was safe from salmonella, I had to decide what exactly to do with the capers. Then it came to me. I had recently gone to Cleveland to visit my brother, David. We went out to dinner with my dear friend from high school, Lisa, who just so happens to 1) own the best chocolate store in Cleveland (shameless plug for Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory), and 2) is an incredible cook. She was raving about this chicken dish that she makes in the slow cooker.  “The chicken is so tender it just falls off the bone,” she said. She brought a printed copy of the recipe to my brother’s house the next day, and I transported it back to New York.  It was sitting in my recipe “pile” (the one I keep saying I’m going to file away all the sheets of paper inside) for the past month and, if my memory served me correctly, it called for capers.

Before I go forward, a note about capers. According to FineCooking.com, “These little spheres are the flower buds of a prickly shrub that grows all over the Mediterranean … Once cured in a vinegar brine or in salt, they develop an intense flavor that is all at once salty, sour, herbal, and slightly medicinal.”  I don’t know about the medicinal part, but the rest of the description is right on track.

Pulling out the recipe for “Dried Plum and Olive Chicken” from the September 2011 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, I scanned the ingredients to see what else I needed besides the capers. The first items on the list were chicken thighs and drumsticks. Well, I don’t like those. I’m a white meat girl, so I headed to the supermarket and picked up some kosher bone-in chicken breasts (not because I keep kosher, but because they taste so much better). While I was there, I also picked up a can of pitted dried plums (AKA prunes), a bottle of pimiento-stuffed green olives, and chicken broth. Back home in my frig and pantry I had the other items:  garlic, Italian seasoning, bay leaf, honey, and cider vinegar.

An aside here. Those of you who worshiped at the throne of the 1980s cookbook extraordinaire, The Silver Palate (and some 2.5 million of us did!), may think these ingredients sound familiar. Well, that’s because it is very closely related to the cookbook’s arguably most famous dinner party recipe, “Chicken Marbella.” As SeriousEats.com blogger Ed Levine put it in his 2009 eulogy for Silver Palate coauthor Sheila Lukins, “She introduced me and millions of others to capers and balsamic vinegar and crème fraîche.”

One of the biggest changes in this recipe is its adaptation to the slow cooker. This saves overnight marinating and frequent basting, a real time saver! Plus, the slow cooker method insures your meat will still be extremely tender and fall off the bone.

So instead of starting the day before, I got up in the morning, and somewhere between brushing my teeth and running out the door for work, I got the chicken prepped. First, I put the breasts on the bottom of the slow cooker and seasoned them with some salt and pepper. I added all the other ingredients on top, saving the honey and vinegar for last.  Then I set the slow cooker dial to “low” and put the timer at six hours. That took under ten minutes, which you really can’t beat.

When I came that evening, the house was infused with the delicious aroma of roasted chicken. I went into the kitchen and opened up the top of the slow cooker, allowing steam to escape in billowing puffs.  Inside the pot, I could see tender looking chicken breasts studded with olives and prunes, and surrounded by a rich brown broth. I decided to stick a fork into one of the breasts, just to see if it was done, and I was rewarded with a tender shred of chicken that I plucked out and sent straight to my mouth. The taste was even better than I expected, a perfect blend of sweet and salty.

While the recipe called for rice, I decided to substitute couscous, another quick fix item.  After bringing chicken stock to a boil, I added the couscous and doctored it up with some Middle Eastern spices, including tumeric and curry powder.  After it sat for a few minutes, I fluffed it with a fork and added a bit of fresh parsley. The best way to serve this dish is to put the couscous on the bottom and then add the chicken, olives and prunes on top and then spoon the sauce over everything.Now the questions is, do I throw the half bottle of leftover capers away or save them for another year?

 

Dried Plum and Olive Chicken

Better Homes & Gardens, September 2011    

 

12 chicken thighs and/or drumsticks, skinned OR

4 bone-in chicken breasts

12 chicken thighs and/or drumsticks, skinned OR

12 chicken thighs and/or drumsticks, skinned OR

4 bone-in chicken breasts

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup pitted dried plums (prunes)

1 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives

2 tablespoons capers

1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1 14.5 oz can chicken broth

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup cider vinegar

3 cups cooked rice or couscous (see recipe below)

Place chicken breasts (or thighs and drumsticks) at bottom of slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper, then add the plums, olives  and capers (drained), Italian seasoning, minced garlic and bay leaves. Drizzle honey and pour chicken broth and vinegar over the top. Set slow cooker timer for 6 hours on low heat.

 

Curried Couscous

1 1/2 cups couscous

2 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons curry powder

1/4 teaspoon tumeric

1/4 cup fresh parsley

Bring chicken broth and olive oil to a boil.  Remove from heat, add the couscous and spices, and cover the pot for five minutes. Fluff with a fork and add parsley.

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