Pan-cooked chicken, caramelized and sticky to the fingers, moist and flavorful inside, is a favorite food around the world. If there are chicken-lovers in your family (as in mine), this Le Marche version is sure to be a hit. Its special taste and texture come from the region’s big fat Ascolane olives, which imbue the chicken with flavor, and the crunch of native pine nuts. Though authentic Ascolane olives are fantastic in this dish, they’re only occasionally available in the United States. But other varieties of green, brine-cured Italian olives (such as Castelvetrano or Cerignola) will be delicious, too; just keep in mind that the saltiness of olives will vary, and season accordingly. “How about black olives?” you ask. And I say, “Black oil-cured olives will be delicious as well; even a green-and-black combination would be nice.” Choose your preferred chicken pieces, too. A whole bird, cut up, is fine, though all dark meat—drumsticks and thighs—are my favorite. And if you are in a hurry (or watching your fat intake), use breast pieces. With these, you can cut the oil and butter in the recipe in half and, because breast meat cooks faster, brown the pieces initially for only 10 minutes, turn them, add the olives, then cook for an additional 10 minutes.
- 3½ to 4 pounds assorted cut-up chicken pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
- 1 cup brine-cured green Italian olives or oil-cured black Italian olives
- ½ cup white wine
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
You will need a 12-inch cast-iron or other heavy skillet or sauté pan, with a cover and an olive pitter. Rinse the chicken pieces, and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off excess skin and all visible fat. Cut drumsticks off the thighs; cut breast halves into two pieces each. Season the chicken all over with the salt. Put the olive oil and butter in the pan, and set over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted and hot, lay in the chicken pieces, skin side down, in a single layer; drop the garlic cloves and bay leaves in the spaces between them.
Cover the pan, and let the chicken cook over gentle heat, browning slowly and releasing its fat and juices. After about 10 minutes, uncover the pan, turn the pieces, and move them around the pan to cook evenly, then replace the cover. Turn again in 10 minutes or so, and continue cooking covered.
While the chicken is browning, pit the olives (if they still have pits in them). If you’re using small olives like Castelvetrano, use a pitter and keep them whole. If you have larger olives (such as Ascolane or Cerignola), smash them with the blade of a chef’s knife to remove the pits, and break them into coarse chunks. After the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes, scatter the olives onto the pan bottom, around the chicken, and pour in the wine. Raise the heat so the liquid is bubbling, cover, and cook, gradually concentrating the juices, for about 5 minutes.
Remove the lid, and cook uncovered, evaporating the pan juices, occasionally turning the chicken pieces and olives. If there is a lot of fat in the bottom of the pan, tilt the skillet and spoon off the fat from one side. Scatter the pine nuts around the chicken, and continue cooking uncovered, turning the chicken over gently until the pan juices thicken and coat the meat like a glaze.
Turn off the heat, and serve the chicken right from the skillet, or heap the pieces on a platter or in a shallow serving bowl.
Spoon out any sauce and pine nuts left in the pan, and drizzle over the chicken.