Let’s get something straight before we dive into this recipe. As far as I know, there isn’t a singular dish on the sunny island of Sicily that’s called Sicilian skillet chicken. What I can tell you is that the place is brimming with agricultural riches from which to cook a spectacular chicken dish.
If you travel the countryside of Sicily, you’d be hard pressed not to notice olive groves dotting the landscape, vineyards along hillsides, capers growing wild, a variety of citrus trees, and olive oil producers from coast to coast. These are just some of the treasures that have put Sicily on the culinary map, and all of them play a role in making this a winner of a recipe.
This tender, tasty one-skillet chicken dish borrows the best from the Sicilian kitchen. Olives, capers, lemon, and white wine marry in a lip-smacking braising liquid that works magic with golden, meaty chicken thighs. Simple, rustic, and a real keeper. I consider it easy enough for a weeknight supper, but also something I’d happily serve to company. This will make you want to hightail it to the shores of Italy’s biggest island.
Simple Cooking, Big Flavors
This is simple, rustic cooking that’s built on layers of flavor. You start by getting chicken thighs golden brown. From there, you sauté a red onion, then add garlic, capers, olives, a whole sliced lemon, and oregano. A generous pour of white wine goes next, serving as the braising liquid for the chicken. Cover the skillet, nice and snug, and leave it to bubble until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
One thing is for certain about this dish—it offers no shortage of flavor. Take a spoonful of the pan juices and you’ll get a salty, briny kick from the olives and capers, a hit of tang from the whole lemon, and the aromatic triple threat of onions, garlic, and oregano.
Tips for Making Sicilian Chicken
Even though this recipe involves a few steps, it’s a relatively simple one to tackle. Here are a few pointers for hitting it out of the park.
- If time permits, salt the chicken in advance. Salt it up to 24 hours in advance and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to cook. Doing so makes the finished bird especially flavorful.
- Don’t rush the browning. Be sure to get the chicken skin nice and golden. It will make the dish tastier and prettier to look at, too.
- Pit the olives. Nobody wants the unpleasant surprise of biting down on an olive pit. Either buy pitted olives or pit them yourself. Use the side of a chef’s knife or a mallet to gently pound the olives and remove the pits. Easy!
Variations You Should Try
If you want to play around with this recipe, there are plenty of ways. Here are some ideas.
- Use a different variety of olives. I favor the buttery Castelvetrano olives native to Sicily, but other varieties will work deliciously, such as Cerignola, Manzanilla, and Picholine.
- Swap in a Meyer lemon. If you can get your hands on this juicy variety, use it in place of the lemon.
- Add a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes. A touch of heat might be a nice addition.
- Choose a different leafy green. Instead of kale, use chard, spinach, collards, or dandelion greens. You could even use radicchio if you like bitter flavors.
- Use a whole, cut-up chicken that’s about four pounds instead of chicken thighs. Ask your butcher to cut each breast in half down the center. Also, keep an eye on the breasts as they cook, since they may be done before the other cuts are tender. Simply pull them out while the thighs and legs finish cooking and return them to the skillet before serving.
What to Serve With Sicilian Chicken
Serving options for Sicilian skillet chicken are many. It could certainly be served on its own, with crusty bread on the side for sopping up the briny juices. A chewy cooked grain, such as farro or sorghum would work well. You could also spoon the chicken over mashed potatoes or serve it with a side of roasted ones. And since this is Italian cooking we’re talking about, a simple pasta tossed with olive oil on the side would be suitable, too.
Yes, You Can Plan Ahead
Like so many dishes, this one is best served hot off the stove. That said, I’ve enjoyed it on two occasions made entirely ahead of time. Just cover the skillet with a lid or foil and store it in the fridge for up to a day.
To reheat, leave the lid on and set it over medium-low heat. Since some of the liquid will likely have been absorbed into the other ingredients, you may want to add a few splashes of chicken broth or even water to the skillet as it heats.
Chicken Recipes Inspired by Italy
Sicilian Skillet Chicken With Lemon, Olives, and Capers
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 1/2 pounds)
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, cut in half through the root and sliced into thin half moons
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup crisp, dry white wine like sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lemon, thinly sliced, including the skin
3/4 cup pitted Castelvetrano olives or other meaty green olives
3 tablespoons drained capers
3 packed cups lacinato kale, stems removed, roughly chopped
Prepare the chicken:
Use a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife to trim any excess skin draping off the chicken thighs. Trim off any visible yellow fat along the underside of the chicken. Season with salt, scattering it over both sides.
If time permits, put the chicken in a shallow dish or bowl and store it uncovered in the fridge overnight. This will infuse the chicken with additional flavor and dry the skin, so it gets extra crispy when cooked.
Cook the chicken:
Heat a large, deep skillet (at least 12 inches in diameter) over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the olive oil and swirl the skillet to coat. Arrange the chicken thighs skin side-down and cook until the skin is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook for 4 to 5 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a shallow dish. The chicken will not be cooked through.
If your skillet is not big enough to accommodate all the chicken at once, brown them in 2 batches.
Cook the onions:
Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions in the same skillet. No need to add more oil. Sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, wine, chicken broth, oregano, lemon, olives, and capers.
Add the chicken back in:
Nestle the chicken thighs, skin side-up in the cooking liquid. Cover the skillet with a lid or tightly with foil. Adjust the heat so the sauce bubbles at a high simmer. Cook the chicken until it is cooked through and very tender when cut with a knife, 35 to 40 minutes.
If there isn’t much liquid left in the skillet, add a splash or two of low-sodium chicken broth or water. There should be pan juices, but the chicken shouldn’t be swimming in liquid.
Add the kale:
Tuck the chopped kale into the cooking liquid beneath and between the chicken. Cook until the kale is tender, covered, 4 to 5 minutes. If your skillet just barely fits the chicken, take the thighs out onto a plate to cook the kale, and then nestle them back in for serving.
You can serve the chicken straight from the skillet.
Store leftovers for up to 3 days in the fridge. Reheat it on the stove top or in the microwave until warmed through. As for freezing, your best bet would be to cool the chicken completely, then stash in a freezer bag with the air pressed out, where it will be good for about 1 month. Defrost overnight in the fridge, then reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 34g||44%|
|Saturated Fat 9g||46%|
|Total Carbohydrate 23g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||23%|
|Total Sugars 8g|
|Vitamin C 100mg||498%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|