Chicken Marbella from La Cala’s famous chef, Steven Saunders!

This week Celebrity & Master Chef Steven Saunders, proprietor of The Little Geranium in La Cala cooks a special Marbella style chicken using local campo chicken and olives.

A WELL-KNOWN American chef friend of mine introduced me to a dish a few years ago called Chicken Marbella which is a dish made famous from a US cookbook called Silver Palate. To be honest it wasn’t sensational! I was a guest in his restaurant, so I did the cowardly thing and told him that it was excellent! But the idea struck a chord in my mind and I always planned to do something with it. It is basically chicken and olives put into a marinade of vinegar, white wine and sugar with prunes and then slow-cooked in the oven with oregano.

But I wanted to adapt it so that the marinade really sinks into the chicken and then I have added mild chillies and chorizo, white cooked beans, roasted peppers and a lot of sherry which all give it big punchy flavours. Chicken Marbella is intended to be simple almost like a peasant’s meal, but it needed a bit more work to make it special. Michele isn’t vegetarian but she doesn’t really eat meat although he will eat chicken if it is campo (free-range). She might eat beef if it is top quality and when it’s well done but not too often, she won’t eat lamb or pork or any other bird, like duck or quail or even a poussin and meat on the bone is taboo as she doesn’t like to see what the animal part looked like.

A chef’s nightmare basically! In other words, it’s not easy coming up with vegetarian dishes that I might also enjoy and chicken dishes are not that straight forward either as she won’t eat carbs so anything with pasta or rice is a no-no! She does eat fish but only fresh white fish with absolutely no bones. She will not eat crustaceans or molluscs. So, you are getting the drift here… It’s really difficult coming up with a meal every day that she will enjoy unless it’s a salad and that isn’t always my kind of meal! If you ask her, she will tell you that she is not at all difficult and that she eats most things… Believe me, she doesn’t!

Cooking for Michele takes me back to my younger years in my thirties when my girls were growing up. I would come home from the restaurants and cook for Serena and Stefanie, my two lovely daughters, and Sally my ex-wife. We grew a lot of fresh vegetables and herbs in the home garden so I always headed for the veg garden first to see what was ready and then cooked it up with some meat or fish. Serena wouldn’t eat pasta and didn’t like fish unless it was scallops or lobster. Stefanie didn’t like to eat meat and didn’t like vegetables but she loved pasta, Serena wouldn’t eat minced meat but Stef loved mince and Sally liked healthy low carb meals using fresh organic meat or wild and longline caught fish- nothing difficult about all that then.

One day I had a really stressful day in the kitchens and one of my chefs had walked out. I came home with some good quality free-range chicken and planned a baked chicken dish with olives, vegetables and herbs from the garden and roasted peppers, baked with tricolour pasta and glazed with cheese. I was planning the dish for a new cookbook I was writing on quick foods. Serena immediately moaned about the pasta and the peppers, Stef moaned about the chicken and the vegetables and Sally moaned that it was too rich and too carby. I was building up to a meltdown!
I stood up and yelled, ”You lot have ruined my life!!”
They all stopped in their tracks and said, “excuse me? What did you say?”
“Sorry,” I said, “I was supposed to say can you please pass the salt!”

Steven & Michele the fussy eater!

Chicken Marbella should be perfect for Michele. She loves olives and beans and fresh herbs and will eat a little chicken (breast only) if I overcook it. This dish has no real carbs and the sauce is made from the marinade so it’s healthy, easy to cook and as we are all still all cooking at home, it’s an ideal dish to put in the centre of the table and let everyone dig in.

“So, Michele, what do you think of my version of Chicken Marbella?” I ask …
“Well it needs more flavour,” she said, “it needs more peppers more chillies and more beans and less sherry.”
“Ok,” I said… ”Can you pass the salt!”
If you want to be a bit naughty it is delicious served with crusty bread from the oven or a side order of pasta!

1 whole campo (free-range) Spanish chicken
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
150g of pitted prunes. Save a little juice (optional)
150g of green olives stuffed with peppers or plain
40g of small capers or 30g of caperberries
1 lemon
100ml of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano (fresh is better)
375 ml of medium sherry or white wine
2 heaped tbsp of soft brown sugar
1 whole chilli, deseeded and chopped thinly
150g of roasted red peppers in a jar
150g of white cooked beans (Alubia blanco)
1 chorizo picante- about 30cm long, cut into slices of about ½ cm
1 tablespoon of chicken stock granules
Salt and pepper
Sprigs of fresh coriander or parsley to finish

Preheat the oven to 160c
Joint the chicken so that you have two drumsticks, two thighs and two breast pieces (cut away from the bone)
Cut the breasts in half so that you have four breast pieces. All with skin on.
Now pour over the vinegar, sherry (or wine), the sugar, the oregano and garlic, the olives and prunes and a little prune juice and the capers.
Marinade, covered in the fridge for 24 hours or the night before
Remove the chicken pieces and in a hot skillet pan or deep casserole
Add the olive oil and seal to get the skin coloured and a bit crispy
Add the chorizo and cook till coloured.
Pour the marinade over the chicken and chorizo (with all the olives, prunes, etc. in it) and allow the marinade to simmer in the pan, but do not totally cover the chicken, as we want the skins to be crispy.
Now sprinkle in the chicken granules and stir well and put in the chillies, red peppers and the beans.
Put the casserole in the oven for about 45 minutes, do not cover.
Check that the chicken is lovely and tender, if not leave it in a little longer.
Remove it carefully from the oven as it will be very hot, squeeze the lemon over and sprinkle with the parsley or coriander and serve steaming hot.

Follow Steven on Instagram… saunderschef The Little Geranium, Winner of Best International Restaurant Spain…2020

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Steven Saunders

Steven Saunders FMCGB - The Little Geranium - La Cala de Mijas & Marbella