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Chicken Sauté with Spanish Flavors

Cooking Off the Cuff: Making a flavorful sauce in advance eases the angst of an unpredictable dinner party

Looking at the list of ingredients for this chicken sauté, it would be easy to think that I’d simply taken everything in the house that was labeled “Spanish” and thrown it into the skillet. The dish was less random than that, and you’ll find a fine balance between the chicken and the big flavors of smoked paprika, chorizo and olives.

It also uses an unusual technique: Normally, with chicken sautés of this kind, aromatics and liquids are added to the pan in which the chicken has been browned to create the cooking medium and the eventual sauce. Here, because of some uncertainty about how many guests we were expecting, I took a different approach. Early in the day I “built” the flavorful sauce on its own, which gave me greater flexibility and, more important, peace of mind: Whether we were three, four or five at the table – or even if it was just Jackie and me – I merely had to brown the appropriate amount of chicken and use the appropriate amount of sauce to simmer it in. Unused sauce and unused chicken could be saved or frozen for next time.

This was a great success, especially from the cook’s point of view; flavors were defined and balanced without the pressure of guests waiting to be fed, and the chicken fat and caramelized juices were duly incorporated into the dish when the browned chicken was bathed in the prepared sauce. I could detect no down side, in fact.


  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Spanish-style cooking chorizos, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 medium clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small bell pepper, red or green, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 Teaspoons mild pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
  • 1 scant Tbs finely chopped rosemary leaves (plus additional rosemary if desired)
  • A handful of chopped parsley (plus optional additional parsley to finish)
  • 1 fairly large tomato, chopped, or 2/3 cup simple tomato sauce (or canned peeled tomatoes, crushed)
  • 2/3 Cups white wine
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • A handful of pitted olives, halved or roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 chicken, cut into portions; if you remove the bones, as I did, you can use them to make stock or soup


First, make the sauce in which the chicken will be cooked (this – and indeed the whole dish – can be done several hours in advance): In a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium-low heat, warm 3 Tablespoons olive oil and sauté the chorizo until it has browned lightly and has released some of its fat and seasonings into the skillet, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and continue to sauté until these have softened, about five minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook for another couple of minutes until it begins to soften. Add the pimentón and stir for about 30 seconds.

Add the rosemary, parsley and tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the tomatoes have reduced and intensified in flavor, about four to six minutes. At this stage the sauce should be slightly pulpy in consistency; the pimentón will absorb some liquid thicken the mixture.

Raise the heat to medium high; add the wine and cook down until it no longer smells raw, about two minutes. Add the chicken stock and the olives, bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for two or three minutes; check for salt and pepper. This sauce will not taste complete: once the chicken has cooked in it and it has reduced, it will acquire the extra dimension it needs. Pour the sauce into a bowl or other container and wash the pan (unless you want to use a fresh one to cook the chicken). Fat will rise to the surface; try not to yield to the temptation to skim it off: it’s delicious.

When it is time to cook the chicken, heat the oven to 350º F. If cooking right away, heat the oven before starting the sauce.

Dry the chicken pieces thoroughly; season them with salt and pepper.

Over medium-high heat, warm the clean 12-inch skillet or sauté pan (or a fresh one). When it is hot, add 2 Tablespoons olive oil and when it, in turn, is hot add the chicken, skin-side down. Press it lightly with your fingers to make sure the skin is in contact with the hot pan. Leave it alone for five to seven minutes, or until the skin is golden (this is for flavor, not crunch, because subsequent cooking will obliterate the crispness). Turn the leg pieces and continue to brown, leaving the breast pieces skin side down. Remove the breast pieces after two minutes or so and put them on a plate.

Continue to brown the leg pieces for another couple of minutes, then add the sauce mixture. Return the breast pieces to the pan, skin side up. Once the sauce has come to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer over low heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until the breast meat is tender when pierced with a cake tester or skewer. Remove the breast pieces and continue to cook the leg meat for another 10 minutes or so – also until tender when pierced.

Return the breast pieces to the pan, simmer for another minute, and check for seasoning. You can add some additional chopped parsley before serving; that’s unlikely to be necessary in terms of flavor, but it will look nice. I didn’t bother.

Serve with rice. I made a simple pilaf with a small onion and a quarter pound of mushrooms. If you didn’t feel like making rice, you could grill slices of good sourdough bread and pass those around: great for mopping up the delicious sauce.

Nutritional Facts
Calories Per Serving790
Total Fat55g84%
Vitamin A186µg21%
Vitamin B121µg55%
Vitamin B61mg92%
Vitamin C40mg45%
Vitamin D0.9µg6.1%
Vitamin E3mg18%
Vitamin K77µg64%
Folate (food)46µgN/A
Folate equivalent (total)46µg11%
Niacin (B3)19mg100%
Riboflavin (B2)0.5mg38.5%
Thiamin (B1)0.4mg34%