chicken with almonds and green olives

March is a confusing month for me. It seems sunnier out, there are fluke 50 and–gasp!–52 degree days and then there is this “first day of spring” that shows up on my calendar but does precisely nothing to thaw my cold fingertips. I’m sick to death of all of my winter clothes but if I am dumb enough to go out in new short or half-sleeve tops, I shiver all day.

almonds, bread crumbs, garlic

The produce isn’t much better. The peas, rhubarb and other spring goodies either haven’t appeared yet or have made a sub-par showing just when I am 100-thousand percent winter squash-ed and brussels sprout-ed out. Worse yet, even though it remains light out at 6:30 p.m., I still crave rich, heavy braises.

But digging through my recipe files a couple weeks ago, I found gold: an old article from the New York Times magazine that really gets this–in fact, it was published three years ago this week. The chicken recipe enclosed is warm enough to make the 40-degree day more bearable but with lighter, brighter ingredients than traditional braises.

almonds, bread crumbs, garlic

Amanda Hesser calls it a “transitional” dish; we called it an undeniable hit. The only thing that threw me, however, was the good amount of fat that accumulated in the pan from the chicken–something that wasn’t easy to skim because the juices were muddied by bread crumbs. But my oh my was it ever tasty. Sweet toasty marcona almonds, the slightest smokiness from a chipotle chile we left in the pot the entire time hovered around chicken so tender, you could cut it with the side of your fork making me question, once again, why I ever cooking chicken any other way. Seeing as this is the rare braise that can be made in an hour, you could be asking yourself this too this very evening.

chicken with almonds and green olives

One year ago: Risotto al Barolo; Green Crostini

Chicken With Almonds and Green Olives
New York Times, 3/27/05

6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup blanched almonds (preferably Marcona)
1/2 cup country bread, torn into small pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Small pinch saffron
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
4 chicken thighs and 4 chicken drumsticks Sea salt
Flour, for dusting
1 dried red chili
1 Spanish onion, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup pitted green olives.

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large braising pan. Add the almonds, bread and garlic. Cook over medium heat so the garlic softens and the bread toasts but nothing burns. Scrape into a food processor and let cool for 5 minutes. Add the saffron and parsley and pulse to a coarse paste.

2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and dust with flour. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the braiser and place over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown all sides, then remove to a plate. Wipe out the pan. Add remaining oil, the chili and onions and cook until softened. Discard the chili. Nestle chicken in the pan, pour in the wine and reduce by half.

3. Add the almond mixture and the broth, bring to a simmer, cover the pan and braise in the oven until the chicken is almost tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in the olives and cook until the chicken is very tender, 10 minutes more. Serve from the pan. Serves 4.

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74 comments on chicken with almonds and green olives

  1. i was just thinking the same thing on my way to work this morning. i am so so so sick of my winter coats! and winter squash, and a farmer’s market where you can buy nothing but apples and pears and meat products. your dish looks wonderful though!

  2. Dancer who eats

    Yummy. I tried something similar to this when I first started learning to cook. It was a recipe from Cooking Light and I remember being shocked that I LOVED the flavor of green olives but didn’t actually want to eat the olives.

    This recipe sounds like the yummy full flavored (ehem…wine) version and I can’t wait to try it.

  3. March is definitely a rough month. I’m always tired of being cold all the time, tired of bundling every time I go outside, but spring is just a tease at this point.

    1. Martha Williams

      No to the slow cooker. Just use a large frying pan…that’s really all a braising pan is (a frying pan with a little higher sides)

  4. Kathryn

    This DOES sound amazing, but being a poor college student, I’m wondering how much of a difference it would make if you left out the saffron. So far, the only saffron I’ve seen at the market is OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive for so tiny an amount.

  5. The sauce on the chicken looks incredible. I love Spanish almonds but hardly ever find them. Even by themselves, Spanish almonds roasted and salted are delicious. Are they simply a different strain of almonds? They always seem to come blanched too, any reason for that?

    Well this looks delicious, I would probably leave out the saffron as well due to the cost (and being that I’m a grad student myself). The flavor of saffron is wonderful but I’m sure it would still be great without it.

    The Peanut Butter Boy

  6. deb

    The saffron flavor, actually, only came through a little, so I don’t think you’d miss much if you didn’t use it.

    I haven’t used a slow-cooker before, but I’ve certainly thought about using ours several times. Close enough, right?

  7. Kim

    Not to gloat or anything that might resemble gloating. I just happen to live in the Southern City of Charleston. This means you don’t have to own a winter coat or scrounge around for what might look like fresh spring vegetables as they are plenty this time of year.
    That being said, I am thrilled your dilemma prompted you to post what looked like a great dinner despite the winter doldrums. I have not had the pleasure of tasting a Spanish almond or if I did I was unaware of it. Will just have to add this all to my must eat list!
    Saffron goes a long way, only needing a pinch and is so worth the money.

  8. Nan

    I will be making this tonight – it’s what I’ve been wanting – only I didn’t know it! On another note…did you recently post, in the past month or so, something about Marion Cunningham? I read a review of her on someone’s blog – ordered her breakfast book, which is fabulous, and I want to talk about it on my blog and give credit to her “turned me on” to her…but I can’t seem to remember! Let me know if it was you! And thanks for the great recipe – I’m off to the market – oh, one more thing…Hamantashens…we buy them at a bakery here but were told they were shaped like that because of Paul Revere’s hat…the sign in the bakery said “Hamantashens/Tricorn Hats”….apparently they’ve rewritten history! Nan

  9. ekg from pdx

    Follow up from a couple of weeks ago: I made Alex’s Chicken and Mushroom Marsala last night. It was outstanding! Delicious; rich but not heavy. And, best of all, little prep and all in only one pan. Now, that’s my kind of recipe! Thanks!!

  10. this really does sound like a good one to hold onto. as for me i am feeling like i don’t need a transition – i need a food make-over… i want flaky fish and mangos and cilantro and pineapple and yes… fresh spring peas with mint.

    for me

    except for bacon which hardly counts…

  11. sara

    my husband and i were thinking of doing a braised or roasted chicken dish for passover–something that could feed a crowd. initially we were thinking something with preserved lemons. but this sounds fabulous. i don’t see why we couldn’t use matzah meal to sub for the breadcrumbs. questions. 1) do you think this could be made ahead, frozen and reheated, and if so, at what point do you freeze? 2) any reason this couldn’t be made with more chicken parts than just legs and thighs? 3) any reason this wouldn’t triple well? many thanks!

  12. deb

    Let’s see.. I’ve never made anything like this ahead that I put in the freezer, but it is conceivable that it would work. I’m sure you could use chicken breasts as well, but keep in mind that they have a longer cooking time, so would be done after the legs. If you do it in two pots, you can split up the longer-cooking and shorter-cooking pieces. As for tripling, the most important thing in a braise is that you get each piece browned well before adding the liquid, so this make take some time and several batches. It’s also a little better to keep them in one layer so all touch the bottom of the pan, so again, you might consider using two big, wide pots.

  13. This looks wonderful! But I’m wodnering what kind of saffron you used. I think a little bit goes a long way and the kind can make a difference. I’m sensitive to saffron tho~ I’m a wierdo I’ll admit it.

  14. Ok, I have to know, and maybe I am just missing it, but what is that lovely bright orange grain-looking stuff you served alongside the chicken (in that first picture)? It looks like carrot rice or something equally intriguing.

  15. deb

    Ha! That was a Near East Spanish Rice Pilaf, and I was appalled by the color and underwhelmed by the flavor. Perhaps next time, I’ll be less lazy… (Though probably not.)

  16. Liz from NC

    if i love one thing, it’s marcona almonds, especially the fried and salted kind. for those of you who can’t find them, they’re plenty available at whole foods, and in most grocery stores specialty sections now. most addictive nut ever. and they really are that much different than regular almonds.

  17. Mmm, that looks good. I remember around this time, a year or two ago, one of the food bloggers (Orangette maybe?) was saying she likes to use this in-between period to revisit items in her pantry. Nuts, lentils, rice, beans, canned tomatoes, etc. are great to use this time of year. I feel guilty cooking with that stuff when there’s seasonal fresh produce to be had, but right now I don’t care. And it’s like a spring cleaning of sorts.

  18. Vivian

    You’d encounter less fat using skinned chicken (and in my experience, in this sort of dish the meat is just as tasty without). Also, if there is no saffron around, some turmeric would give the golden color and a different but interesting flavor.

    I enjoy your blog – thanks for a great distraction from work almost every day.

  19. Ah transitional dishes, they are to be treasured that’s for sure! Lock them away in your recipe books! I know exactly how you feel about the winter ingredients. Enough, enough! There is something about chicken and olives too that I just love. Such simple things but a really stunning combination.

  20. Hey Deb,
    Just found your site a couple of weeks ago and love it! I made the chocolate cake that you made for your chocoholic inlaws for easter and it was awesome! I did run out of butter before getting the mousse though, so I just covered it with some ganache and it worked out perfectly. Looking forward to making it as it was originally intended soon. Thanks for all the great pics and recipes!

  21. I love olives and that is enough for me to try this.
    YUM! When my hubby and I lived in Northern Cali for 2 years we frequented this amazing Cuban restaurant that had beef stew to swoon over. It was stewed with tomatoes, potatoes, red bell pepper, raisins and GREEN OLIVES. So so so good and when presented with savory soupy black beans, sticky steamed white rice and sweet pan-fried plantains, it’s like a cumbancha (party) in your mouth.

  22. “Transitional dish”. Oh man, have I ever been ready for this since, say early February. Bring on the transition, and bring on the spring produce! It’s so great to hear someone else gripe with impatience (and, unlike me, find productive and yummy solutions!)

  23. Amanda

    Ok, diggin’ the crusty-brown skins on the chicken, it’s been much, much more than a minute since I’ve eaten chicken with the skin on…
    So, there’s so much great feedback on this site, I need advice. You remember, Deb, when you asked what we were the most intimidated to cook? While, I took on my Grendle, homemade pasta…sans machines. Maybe that was the problem. It ended up being kind of chewy & dumpling-ish, which is great in chicken soup, but maybe not so much for the perfectly savory and de-lish pasta with a light mushroom & scallions cream sauce I’d planned. It was not at all as good as just the pics looked in Cooking Light’s article on making pasta (credit to Lidia Bastianich).
    Help! I must learn to make my own pasta or retire from the kitchen in shame!

  24. Mike

    My best friend (and cooking buddy) hates olives, so I was thinking that we could substitute a handful of capers instead. Do you think this is a good idea?

  25. :)

    Sorry guys! I’m still eating the PENNE PASTA WITH EGGPLANT PUREE recipe. I made it 6 times already since the recipe has been posted and is addicted to the recipe because it’s healthy and very tasty (added Herbes de Provence). Talking about can’t cook the same dish twice, once addicted to a recipe, have to have it all the time. My husband and I can eat the same food for a month and still don’t get tired of it.

  26. Dianne

    Bottom line — loved it! I made this last night, and made some changes to fit my family — omitted the onions and used eight boneless skinless thighs. I had some trouble with the garlic getting too brown, probably because of using pre-chopped ones, instead of whole cloves. Notes to self:
    Try the large le cruset pan, not chicken fryer; Use whole garlic cloves; remove the dried red chili pepper. Still, it was lovely!

  27. I tried this recipe last night and found it to be just ehhh. That said, I did skin the chicken thighs first but I thought that it needed something maybe like other herbs or veggies.I have enjoyed reading your blog over the past year.

  28. Kristofer

    Wow. Made this dish on a cold NE PA evening. It was tremendous, the bready, almondy, olively mixture was fabulous. I did it with boneless chx thighs, which was nice, no bones or assorted coming out of the dish during eating, and I think next time, some paprika on top (towards the end, perhaps when adding the olives) and some slivered toasted almonds on top for garnish would make it even more SUBLIME – Smitten, you’re the best! -Cheers!

  29. Amber

    I made this tonight. it was very good – and the hubby LOVED it. I was amazed at how much the olives flavored the dish after only being in there for 10 -15 minutes! The texture of the sauce was a little weird — this is not an attractive dish to serve to company, and I also had the problem with it being a little bit oily — but it was very delish, and I loved sopping up the sauce with the extra country bread. Thanks for this!

  30. Rob

    You hit the weather element RIGHT on. I hate the back and forth. And it LOOKS so warm outside you think it SHOULD be warm when you’re getting dressed.

    I hope the recipe is as spot on as your weather analysis because I’m going to try it!

  31. I am going to have to give this a try. Marcona almonds are my favorite. My brother works at ideal cheese and gives me a HUGE bag every christmas. Somehow I have not eaten the whole bag yet.

  32. Chris

    Okay, it’s a year later–but that transitional time once again. I thought this was a great recipe. The amt of saffron is so tiny (and I used it) that I can’t say it would make much of a difference to leave it out if you don’t have it.

    I wanted a mix of white and dark meat, so I used thighs and breasts cut in half so all the pieces were about the same size. It’s easy to burn the garlic at the beginning, so I think when I make this again I would add the garlic in a little later, once the bread was starting to brown.

    I made this Spanish rice recipe from Epicurious as well, and it was a good combo:

    The zucchini’s a good touch. I also added some tomato paste and browned it at the beginning along with some paprika so the rice had a nice red color.

    Thanks Deb for another good one!

  33. Chris, I’m right here with you a year later. I agree 100% on the saffron (& I used it too). And I too found it to be really fatty. Next time, even though I agree with the commenter who made it all boneless, I think we’ll try two chicken breasts cut in half and four drumsticks and make everyone happy with all-favorite parts and hopefully less fat released.
    Still–a hit here. My son had two of the drumsticks! Thanks!

  34. joanna bryne

    i’m not just smitten with this recipe…i’m head over heels in love with it!!!!! i’ve made it numerous times and each time i’m awed by how delicious it is.i use skinless thighs, regular almonds( marcona don’t seem to be available in san miguel de allende, mex., where i live, and 1 canned chipotle, instead of the dried red pepper. the finely diced chipotle gives it a really nice smoky, slightly spicy flavor. thank you deb, for a superb recipe.

  35. Leah

    This was VERY good. Finally, a different chicken recipe.
    Loved the breadcumb mixture and the creamy sauce, and the slight crunch from the almonds.
    Another great Smitten Kitchen recipe. Thanks!!

  36. M

    The almond-bread-parsley-olive-onion mix is just, oh so wonderful. I eye balled how much bread I used and I would guess that it was definitely way more than 1/2c, so I ended up with a thick, gravy like texture once wine and broth were mixed in with them. Still fantastic!

  37. Megan

    Couple of questions:

    1. Does brown mean cook until golden but still raw in the middle? Guess that’s ok because it’ll be cooked more.

    2. Is it okay to cook with olive oil at medium-high heat? Or does that make it burn and make it a “bad” oil?

    I guess I could spend time google-ing this as well…

  38. deb

    Hi Megan — 1. Yes, browning is much more about getting some color and a little extra flavor onto the skin. 2. It should be fine but if you find your olive oil is more on the delicate side and smokes easily, you can use half olive oil and half a vegetable or canola or grapeseed oil, all of which have higher smoking points. 3. Yes, in the oven. I realize the dish has you go back and forth a lot and it can be confusing. (I had to read it twice. It’s been a while!)

  39. Sara

    So, I’m extremely late to the party…but I made this for dinner tonight and absolutely loved it. Your recipes never fail to deliver!

  40. Deb, this is already the second time I make one of your braised chicken recipes, and while in the end they were both AMAZING, I had lots of trouble with getting the drumsticks to cook through (like more than half an hour extra in the oven). I used two different ovens (in both of which your other dishes always come out right), so it can’t be that. In this case I had to uncover the cooking dish, cut the drumsticks into smaller pieces, and give them an extra half an hour in the oven until they finally looked cooked. I really don’t know what I’m doing wrong :( My boyfriend had the idea that it might be my choice of cooking dish, since you call for a metal dish and I was using an oven-proof glass dish (it’s all I have). Could that be it?

    1. deb

      Ivana — I don’t think so, and I’m surprised it was trouble, however, as it has never taken me more than 30 minutes (35, tops) to bake drumsticks, which I do often. Are you sure your oven wasn’t acting up? Did you test the doneness with a thermometer or just cut in and eyeball it?

  41. I didn’t check with a thermometer, but they were very clearly not done – as in: there were bloody bits inside when I cut them open. I’m pretty sure it’s not the oven, it has been working fine just before and after… Weird! I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

  42. Isabel

    For anyone who’s curious if this will work in a slow cooker, I made this last night in my slow cooker and it was amazing!!! I put the browned chicken and the onions in the crock pot at about 10am, and covered it with chicken broth and a bit of water, let it do its thing on the “low” temperature until about 6pm, then I dumped out the broth into a bowl (more on that in a minute), and then threw in the almond/garlic paste and the olives, turned the slow cooker on high, and let it go for another hour.

    I then cooked some toasted white basmati rice with the broth, some mustard seeds, and a couple of kaffir lime leaves.


  43. Sheri

    This looks amazing and I cannot wait to make it. I would just like to know what kind of green olives you use? Forgive me if you have answered that already. I love looking at your blog and reading your adorable stories. Thank you…
    I will write again after I make the dish:)

    1. deb

      Sheri — We served it with rice but I imagine that roasted potatoes with pimenton might also be nice. Asparagus and/or green beans are always my go-to green vegetable sides, depending on the season. Let me know if you were looking for something else. (And sorry about the delayed response; got very behind in the last week!) Re, green olives: I cannot remember now, but can tell you that I’m really picky about them and prefer ones that come in vacuumed jars rather than open-top olive bars; the latter area always too salty and yet flavorless to me.

  44. Samantha

    Just wanted to say how PHENOMENAL this dish is! I’ve been making it for years for guests, special occasions, and regular family dinners. It is an absolute favorite over here, and always a crowd pleaser. I figured that after making it regularly all these years, I owed it a comment!

  45. Elma

    I have been following your site for YEARS, but have never commented! Have usually turned to you for cookie recipes etc, but I made this chicken last night and it was a total hit, so thought I would let you know. I had my boyfriend do the initial toasting & grinding of the almond-bread mixture and he confessed later he added a bit more bread and almonds than the recipe stated. I imagine that is why the sauce wasn’t oily like some commenters have said, but rather it was thick and delicious. There is so much flavour in this. I would definitely not omit the saffron, it makes a difference I feel. I served it with plain white rice which is fabulous with the complex flavours of the chicken and the sauce. Next time I will attempt it with just boneless thighs as we both prefer thighs to legs.

  46. dleb25

    This is one of my favorite recipes – I often make it with 2lbs boneless chicken thighs, cut into large chunks, I sub the wine with a bit of vinegar, and I add the garlic after the bread and almonds have toasted a bit – I find it starts to brown too quickly if I add it at the same time.

  47. Sam

    This is so good, and I’ve made it so many times. I use regular almonds and omit the saffron (because I’m lazy and cheap). I also cook it for way longer and at a higher temp (maybe 3 hours at 400?) until the meat falls off the bones in delectable, stringy chunks. Then it’s more like a stew, and I serve it over egg noodles. So delicious!