Chicken Marbella – lighten up makeover

One of my most favorite chicken recipes is Chicken Marbella. It has origins in a Moroccan dish and was popularized by the Silver Palate Cookbook chefs, Shelia Lukins and Julie Ross. The recipe has the most unusual combination of chicken braised in a wine sauce along with prunes, olives and capers. It is delicious, really. 

Chicken Marabella Revisited - IMG_3872_1

The sweet wine sauce and prunes complement the salty olives and bitter capers. The photo here shows a variation with apricots rather than prunes and shows the chicken served with fingerling potatoes.

Their are many, many versions of this recipe on the internet. I was surprised to see the calorie count breakdown of several recipes shown on the internet at over 1000 calories per serving. For chicken? Hum.

This recipe is perfect for any elegant occasion including a Seder meal during Passover, an Sunday Easter meal or a party. But that’s alot of calories in a main course recipe. I am guessing that either the calorie counts in recipes shown on the internet were not accurate, or the servings were too large to serve a household meal or there are really just alot of calories in the recipe from the sauce that the chicken cooks in.

My original recipe is  from Shelia Lukins and Julie Rosso. These two chefs were frequent contributors to the Parade Magazine in the Sunday addition of the Washington Post years ago. I still have my copy of the recipe, made with Cornish hens. These two chefs published a cookbook, “The Silver Palate Cookbook”, and several other similar ones. They are great recipe books and discuss how to prepare many food ingredients. From references on the internet, it seems that this chicken dish was a signature dish in a restaurant the two chefs operated before they went their separate ways.

Lighten up makeover

There are several ways to reduce the calories of this dish, and I experimented with different variations over the past several weeks. We’ve been eating alot of chicken!

  • The “Silver Palate” original recipe calls for 2 quartered chickens (2 1/2 lb each) for 6 people. This is 1/3 chicken per person – huge serving. Appropriate for a restaurant, but probably not necessary at home where other foods are being served.
  • The recipe uses 1/2 cup brown sugar in the sauce, as well as 1/4 cup olive oil in the marinade. I experimented with using less olive oil and sprinking just a small amount of brown sugar over the chicken and actually forgot the sugar the last time. Tastes just fine.
  • The original recipe uses whole chickens which are quartered. Substituting boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs for chicken pieces is an option. The skin adds many calories, especially since it contributes to the basting sauce as the chicken bakes which is then served with the chicken. To add a little color, I dusted the chicken breasts/thighs in matzoh meal-seasoned bread crumbs would also work-before baking.

Other notes

The original recipe calls for marinading the chicken overnight. I never plan that far ahead and just marinaded the chicken for an hour.

Several family members weren’t crazy about the black prunes in the recipe. “What are those black things?” I substituted dried apricots, shown in the above photos.The olives and capers add enough salt so that you don’t need to add extra salt. Also, one time I added fingerling potatoes, shown in the recipe. The combination worked well.

In one variation, I used meaty bone-in chicken thighs (skin-on) in the recipe. It is not necessary to cover the chicken in this variation while baking. This is a tasty dish and an attractive presentation for a party buffet.

Chicken Thighs - 1 - IMG_3842


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced finely
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/8 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup dried pitted prunes or apricots (or both)
  • 1/4 cup small green pimento olives
  • 2 Tbsp capers, with juice
  • 2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (or combination of both)
  • 1/2 cup matzoh meal or dried seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 lb fingerling potatoes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup, approximately, white cooking wine
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • fresh parsley for garnish

Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, oregano and white pepper in a non-metal bowl and stir. Then add the prunes (or apricots), olives and capers with juice. And the chicken pieces and stir to coat the chicken well. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for an hour to overnight.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place matzoh meal or dried bread crumbs on a plate. Remove the chicken from the marinate, one piece at a time, and coat with the matzoh meal or bread crumbs on both sides. Place each piece in Pyrex baking casserole dish or baking pan. Roll the chicken thighs up before placing in casserole dish.

Pour the marinate, with the fruit, olives and capers, over and around the chicken. Remove the bay leaves. If using fingerling potatoes, place them around the edges of the casserole dish. Pour the wine around the edges of the casserole dish and sprinkle brown sugar over the chicken and around the potatoes.

Cover the casserole dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. If using only thighs, they may bake in less time.

Remove the aluminum foil. Bake about 10-15 minutes longer, add a little more white wine if needed. Alternately if desired, broil the chicken about 10 minutes to brown the chicken and dry out the crumbs. I didn’t find this to be necessary, instead, I sliced the chicken breasts across the grain and served.

Garnish with parsley, if desired. Cut the chicken breasts in half, or slice in 1-inch slices. Cut the larger potatoes in half. Serves 6.


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