With the arrival of summer comes the desire for different tastes, lighter fare and less cooking time in the kitchen. For me, it also arouses a desire for tastes of the Mediterranean, of southern Italy and the flavorful versatility of poultry. Olive Chicken takes all of this into account and is an immensely pleasing dish on a number of levels. From the chicken lover that wants to eat right off the bone to the fine dining party where superior flavor and presentation are a must, this dish will deliver the goods. What’s more, it’s a meal you can make for a party of adults, which the kids will enjoy as well.
Olive Chicken is a melding of flavors that truly speaks of the Mediterranean to me. The chicken takes on the flavors of the garlic and bay leaf. The olives soften and sweeten in the pan and mix perfectly with the toasted nutty flavors of the pine nuts. Eat it with knife and fork or just eat it with your hands, but what you must make sure of is that you are ready to supply your guest with seconds – yes, it’s that good.
Now what about sides? A sauté of broccoli rabe and a quick polenta will do the trick by both contrasting and fortifying the flavors of the olive chicken and by creating a canvas of flavors and colors to wow the senses. The best thing about these three items is that you can easily create this entire meal in three pans on your stovetop. All you need is to take the time to prep your ingredients beforehand and to plan each dish around the cooking time of the other two.
When it came time to pick the wine, I decided to go with complements, as opposed to contrasts, and that would be Riesling. There’s something about the crisp citrus and minerality in Riesling that pairs perfectly with olives. Maybe it’s the herbal earthiness and salinity from the olives that complete the perfect taste profile when mixed with the taut focused fruit and lively acidity in Riesling. For this occasion, I choose one of my favorites, Willi Schaefer’s Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett. I strongly urge you to try it, and if you have the chance, it’s perfect with the Olive Chicken.
Olive Chicken with Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Polenta
(Make sure to prep and start your sides before the Chicken)
- 4 chicken thighs
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- 1 cup Italian olives (I use Bella di Cerignola, olives from Puglia)
- 2/3 cup white wine
- ¼ cup of pine nuts
- 2 Tbls. garlic (smashed or rough chop)
- 2 Tbls. butter
- 1 Tbls. olive oil
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- salt and pepper for seasoning
1. Pit the olives by slicing around the center and then lying flat on your cutting board. With the broad side of your knife against the olive, press down or give a good pat (with your hand) on the knife to separate the olive from the pit. Place the prepared olives on the side.
2. In a sauté pan, melt one tablespoon of butter over low-medium heat. Once the butter has melted and foam has settled, add the pine nuts. Watch closely to assure they do not overcook. Once the bottoms begin to take on a slight color (a toasty smell should begin to rise from the pan), flip the pine nuts and allow them to toast on the second side. When the second side is done, move them from the pan to a paper towel to drain.
3. In a large heavy gauge steel or cast iron pan, add one-tablespoon butter and one-tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Allow all the foam to cook off the butter and stir the mixture until consistent. Season the chicken thighs and drumsticks with salt and pepper and place skin side down into the hot oil mixture. Lower the heat to a low medium and cover. Let the chicken cook for eight – ten minutes.
4. Remove the top from the pan and turn the chicken. Raise the heat back to medium. Add the crushed garlic and bay leaf. Cover the pan again and cook for another ten minutes. (If the skin side of the chicken did not take enough color to your liking, don’t worry; we’ll address that later.*)
5. Remove the cover from the pan. Move the chicken around the pan carefully to assure even color and allow it to cook for another five minutes. Now add the olives and the wine and reduce to a saucy consistency (about 5 more minutes). Lastly, add the pine nuts to the pan to warm them and remove from the stove to plate.
* If you feel that you haven’t achieved the proper color on the chicken, turn your broiler onto high heat and move the chicken (skin side up) onto a sheet pan. Place under the broiler and watch closely to make sure it does not burn. (A minute or two works wonders.) While doing this, keep the pan with the sauce and olives over a very low flame. Once the chicken is browned to your liking, remove it and plate immediately.
For the Sides: Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
- 1 large bunch broccoli rabe (washed with stems trimmed)
- 4 cloves garlic (crush or ruff chop)
- 1 – 2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have an ice bath and sieve ready on your counter. Place the broccoli rabe into the pot and make sure that all leaves have been submerged under water.
2. Allow this to cook for five minutes. Then pull the broccoli rabe from the pot and place into the ice bath. Allow it to rest submerged for no longer than 2 – 3 minutes, at which time you should place it into the sieve to drain.
3. When your Olive Chicken is about five minutes from being done, place the olive oil and garlic into a sauté pan and bring the heat up to medium. Season the garlic with salt and pepper. Watch closely to assure that the garlic doesn’t take on too much color.
4. Once the garlic has begun to brown slightly, turn the heat up to medium-high and immediately add the broccoli rabe to the pan. Remember that the broccoli rabe is already cooked and this process is to heat it through and impart it with the flavors of the garlic and oil. Flip the broccoli rabe around the pan and make sure to move the garlic from the bottom of the pan and on top of the broccoli rabe.
5. Once heated through (about 2 – 3minutes), turn off the flame and plate.
Much of what you do with the polenta depends on your tastes. Follow the package instructions. I like to buy a rough-cut polenta. For this recipe, substitute half of the recommend amount of water with chicken stock and add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. When it’s near completion, season with salt to taste. To plate, simply place one ladle full right from the pot onto the plate and shake the plate gently until the polenta spreads out evenly. If your timing goes off a bit, you can always refresh the polenta with a little hot water to make sure it stays loose enough to ladle onto the plate.
Article and Original Recipes by Eric Guido