Some people like briny, piquant flavors like olives and capers, and some don't. Maybe it's an acquired taste. But all I know is that you can't go on just liking them for long: "like" eventually becomes "love." There's something addictive about the punch of a caper, much the way people become obsessed with the initially bitter and off-putting taste of coffee. Flavors that are difficult to love tend to instill great passion.
Pasta alla Puttanesca, a simple tomato sauce studded with olives, capers, anchovies and red pepper flakes, is a prized dish for these reasons. So I was particularly excited to discover this recipe for Pollo Piccante from Cucina Rustica, by superb Italian cookbook authors Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman. It has has all the same "deep, seductive flavors" and hits all the notes of a good puttanesca in a meatier form. It's a superb way to quickly and dramatically prepare chicken.
- 1 whole small chicken, about 2 1/2 pounds, or equivalent of bone-in chicken pieces
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 12 oil-cured black olives, pitted and quartered
- Small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
If the chicken is not already in serving pieces, cut it up into drumsticks, thighs, and cut each breast in half. Leave the skin on. Heat the oil in a large enough skillet to comfortably hold the chicken pieces without crowding, over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook until golden, then remove them and add the chicken skin-side down. Cook until the skin releases from the pan and is golden, then brown the other side. The pieces should be golden brown all over.
Sprinkle the chicken with the chile flakes and half the parsley, and cook for 30 seconds, then add the white wine. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the pan, then add the capers and olives. Cover, turn the heat to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes until the chicken is tender and easily pierced with a fork.
Lift the chicken onto a warmed platter, then turn off the heat. After the juices have begun to settle and the fat has risen to the top, about 2 minutes, tilt the skillet and spoon off most of the fat, leaving behind the juices, capers, and olives. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve sprinkled with the remaining parsley.