A New Chicken Marbella (Finally!)


Photo by jkdjulia/FlickrCC

To try the recipes mentioned in this post, click here for Chicken-Marbella-inspired lamb tagine and here for a tzatziki sauce to accompany it. I grew up a few blocks from the Silver Palate food shop, the store—opened in 1977 by Sheila Lukins, a caterer, and Julee Rosso, a marketing exec—that spawned four influential cookbooks and changed the way New Yorkers viewed food in the 1980s. I can estimate that the store closed when I was no older than seven because my memories of the place begin in-stroller and end sub-counter-height. I remember the trim red awning, the rush of air-conditioned air scented with basil and raspberries when you entered from the sticky summer heat, shelves filled with row upon row of jams and jellies, the signature red-and-white checked packaging, the holiday-specific cookies. The store is as much a part of my early childhood as Gus (the neurotic Central Park Zoo polar bear) and OshKosh B'Gosh.

My mother gave me two of her Silver Palate cookbooks, both dog-eared and smeared with sauce, as a present when I moved into my new apartment—a little reminder of childhood during my first steps into adulthood. In the summers, my father swears by the rack-of-lamb marinade, and when my parents hosted their friends' weekly rotating poker game, my mom would make "Chili for a crowd." (I can never persuade her to nix the canned black olives—she insists upon sticking with the Silver Palate recipe, which she claims has never failed her.)

My impulse buys were relatively tame this time around: a jar of sour cherries from Turkey and three gold-coated almonds.

I remember eating the Silver Palate's signature dish a few times, too: Chicken Marbella, which Kim Severson describes as "a rather unremarkable baked-chicken dish that draws its character from prunes, olives, and capers. Just mention it to any decent cook old enough to have had her own apartment in the 1980s and you will get both an eye roll and a nostalgic smile."

I didn't have my own apartment in the 1980s, but I do now, so when I invited my parents over for dinner, the natural choice was the eye-roll-inducing chicken dish. When I looked at the recipe, though, there were two problems. First, the recipe called for overnight marinating. My parents were coming in eight hours. Secondly, the dish seems so ... eighties. How was I going to pay homage to my childhood culinary memories?

Then, something occurred to me. The Mediterranean flavors, the prunes and olives, were reminiscent of a Moroccan tagine. Why not a Chicken-Marbella-inspired lamb tagine instead? And so it was that I happily walked to Kalustyan's, what my friend refers to as "a chef's playground," to get my ingredients.

Kalustyan's stocks a wide array of exotic spices and foods. Down one aisle you'll find tri-colored couscous (which I snatched up as an accompaniment) and cold-pressed rice oil, down another frozen samosas and lychee puree, down another gold-coated almonds ($35.99 per pound) and tamarind candy. For the lamb, I got some dried fruit and nuts and a packet of ras el hanout, a Morrocan spice mixture I've yet to find anywhere else. I spied a carton of labne, a middle-eastern strained yogurt, in the fridge, and grabbed it, along with some pita, for appetizers. My impulse buys were relatively tame this time around: a jar of sour cherries from Turkey and three gold-coated almonds (they almost cracked my teeth and tasted like plywood, but eating them made me feel like the Shah of Manhattan).

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Sophie Brickman is a writer living and cooking in New York City. More

Sophie Brickman is a writer living and cooking in New York City. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the French Culinary Institute.

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