Roxanne’s Balsamic Chicken with Olives

Roxanne's Chicken-2789

Ah, children.  If you append the name of one child to a dish, the other will someday ask, “Why didn’t you ever name anything after me?”  Ergo Roxanne’s Balsamic Chicken with Olives.  When our son graduated from college, one of the first things he bought was a pressure cooker.  Without a job, he knew he could at least survive on beans and various grains, and as his prospects improved slightly the pressure cooker saw him through successful iterations of Oliver’s Chicken Stew, which made him a culinary hero to his equally impoverished roommates.  Our daughter turned 18 this week – sob – and reminded us that she needed a dish that she could take with her to college, something within her skill set that might make her a culinary goddess to her future roommates, something with her name on it.  This preparation goes back 25 years, to the restaurant where Jody was first a chef, Michela’s, in Cambridge.  At the time there were two ways of serving duck in high-end restaurants – roast duck with a sauce involving oranges or cherries, and seared duck breast served in thin, blood-rare slices.  Jody wanted an alternative, and this marinade and sauce, with balsamic vinegar, rosemary and green olives was born.  The duck followed her from Michaela’s to Rialto.  The marinade, however, has slipped the bonds of its canardish coil and found its way to other dark meat poultry, namely chicken thighs.  The recipe can be used with turkey thighs as well, and easily doubles or triples if you want to make a batch for a dinner party – all you need is bigger pan for the oven.  Newbie cooks can avail themselves of various options with the recipe according to their skill and confidence.  Marinate and roast.  Marinate, roast, make a sauce.  And finally, marinate, roast, and make a side dish like seared baby bok choy which you can also flavor with the sauce.  Add rice, farro or polenta and you have a dinner for 4.   Skip the starch and you have a feast for a pair of famished Valentine’s Day lovers.  Either way, a young woman with an empty purse still finding her culinary legs might not have much money, but with this recipe in her pocket she’ll never be be poor.  Enjoy.  Ken


I’d like to thank Gina, of Gastronomiette, for directing me to Garden Betty’s Vietnamese Preserved Lemons and Salty Lemonade.  The Vietnamese don’t squeeze their lemons or rub them with salt; instead, they simply cover the quartered fruit with a salt brine.  Gastronomiette, by the way, has one of the quirkiest, most interesting food sensibilities of any 17 y.o. I’ve ever encountered.  Her blog’s definitely worth a visit , especially if you don’t know what “finger limes” are.

Julie Bredy, of Bergamot Orange, does a great job in Preserved Lemons of presenting the bury-them-in-salt method, but what I really like about her post is its exhaustive list of uses for preserved lemon, a few of which I’ve never encountered (yogurt?!).  The list is a reminder of how well this ingredient will serve you, if you just keep asking yourself the question:  What would a little preserved lemon do?

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Roxanne’s Balsamic Chicken with Olives


  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons white onion, chopped into 1/8-inch dice
  • 1½ tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 4 large bone-in skin-on  chicken thighs, about 1½ pounds
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for basting
  • 12 large Sicilian green olives, pitted and broken in half
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary


  1. In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, mix the vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, mustard seeds or grainy mustard, rosemary and pepper together.  Stir in the onion and garlic.
  2. Trim the thighs of any excess fat or skin.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Roll the chicken all around in the marinade.  Cover and marinate 8 hours to overnight in the fridge. Alternatively, put the chicken into a large resealable plastic bag, pour the marinade over the chicken, seal, toss back and forth to distribute the marinade evenly and refrigerate.
  3. Prior to cooking, bring the chicken to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
  4. Remove the chicken from the marinade, allowing any that clings to the chicken to remain. Save the marinade in the bowl or bag.  Set the chicken, skin side up, on a non-stick rack, or a rack sprayed or brushed with cooking oil, in a roasting pan. Add ¼ inch water to the roasting pan to prevent the juices from burning. Roast for 15 minutes. Brush the skin with the oil.  Roast for another 15 minutes and then  spoon the remaining marinade over the chicken.  Add more water to the pan if necessary.  Continue roasting for another 60 minutes.  A thermometer inserted into the thigh should read 170 degrees.
  5. Increase the oven temperature to 450ºF.  Brush again with oil and roast another 10 minutes or until the skin gets crispier.  If the skin is getting too dark and threatening to burn, remove the pan from the oven.
  6. While the chicken is roasting, put the stock in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat to reduce by half.
  7. When the chicken is done, pour the pan drippings into the chicken stock and continue to simmer until reduced again by  half.  Add the olives and a sprig of rosemary and simmer 10 minutes.   If the sauce seems too watery, continue to reduce.  Spoon the sauce around the chicken thighs.

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Roxanne's Chicken 3-3

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Sometimes as a chef, you’re lucky – or cursed – depending on how you look at it, and hit on a recipe that your clients won’t let go.  That’s the story of the duck at Rialto.  In my first job as a chef I created a duck recipe that, for better or worse, has become permanently associated with me.  No matter where I’ve cooked since then, I get the same questions from clients: “You’re not going to change the duck, are you?”  “The duck’s going to be on the new menu, right?” 

Fast forward 25 years to Rialto, where the duck’s still on the menu.  On nights when Roxanne’s home alone I’ll get a text from her around 8:00, asking her which restaurant I’m at, when I’ll be home and can I please bring her something to eat.  If I’m at Rialto, she wants one of two things – the Penne Bolognese, or the Duck.  I will dearly miss those texts when she leaves home this year.  She graduates in the spring.

It’s unlikely she’d attempt a whole roasted duck in her first years away from us, but she would try a chicken.  This recipe: the duck marinade and sauce, with chicken.  

Roxanne, my best girl, this is for you.  xox

Some parting advice.  Don’t try to speed things up by roasting the thighs at a higher temperature – they’ll get dark too quickly and might burn.  No need to salt the chicken – the soy sauce does that for you. Multiply the recipe.  Leftover thighs are delicious the next day.

49 thoughts

  1. Valentine’s Day with a recipe and kiss for your little girl? You’r e killin me. Bad enough to know Roxanne is 18. Nice job folks…

  2. Happy Birthday Roxanne and what a great present to have such a wonderful dish named for her…wow!
    As always, great photos and I look forward to making this dish soon…

  3. Aha the duck recipe! Now I have no excuse not to give the recipe a go (chicken thighs seem much more approachable than whole ducks, and I don’t need a reason to buy some). We are hosting a St Patrick’s Day dinner, I wonder if this could somehow fit in the theme. Or maybe I should stick to colcannon and Guinness cake instead..
    And “canardish coil” – like your way with words!!

    • This would be pretty easy to do for a group, especially with a big roasting pan. Just make more marinade. On the other hand, I’m not sure that just because the olives are green it qualifies as Irish. Let me know what you do. Ken

      • Well, the St Patrick’s Day dinner was delayed, to become April Fools dinner. On the other hand, I made this for Sunday dinner tonight, and it was delicious. Love the sauce. A bit of work for two people but would be reasonably easy for a small crowd. Thanks!!

      • I agree, maybe more steps than you want to take for just too–depends on your level of committment. :-) But proportionally much less work for a crowd. Glad you enjoyed it nevertheless. Ken

      • I hope that didn’t sound like I was complaining, because it was a really good dinner! Thinking back, there was more work involved in the other components, buckwheat risotto-thing, charred gai lan, rather than the chicken which was more or less set and forget.

  4. Oh, how nice. What a lovely story, especially Jody’s. The chicken version looks beautiful, but I do love the idea of the duck, and I have some coming to me soon from D’Artagnan…

  5. What a beautiful homage to your daughter. I’m so glad you guys did this for her. The marinade looks absolutely amazing (true chef knife skills with that onion). I love the idea of olives and chicken. A wonderful duck is not a bad thing to have associate with you. Chicken was the first thing I learned to make in college because I worked at a cafe and saw how easy it was. I used to invite all my friends over to try my marinated chicken. I’m horrified now when I think back on it. But good choice in a dish for your daughter. Happy happy bday and many more. You guys are awesome.

      • Well ramen and kraft mac became appz and side dishes to my lesser version of your chicken. As did the freshman 15, but it’s inevitable. And at least there was chicken. And baked salmon. I sure growing up with you she learned some basics.

    • Don’t you wonder, after all of the family meals, what your kids will take away? Our son’s experience was instructive – I think he was pretty shocked to discover what his friends were willing to eat (in terms of bad, processed food) after finishing school. This motivated him to make sure he and his roommates ate reasonably well. One of them, who frankly admitted he couldn’t cook, volunteered to help just so he could learn a few things. Ken

      • It is amazing what children will take away from their upbringing and you both have obviously done a great job! It speaks volumes that your son is now helping and showing others how to eat better…that’s truly wonderful!

  6. This dish has all of my favorite flavors – particularly the briny olives and sweet balsamic – and the chicken looks to have gorgeous texture. I am planning to prepare this recipe this week for my hubby and friends. It looks tasty and contains a warm spirit – if any dish can! I also have a son and a daughter – how time flies – they grow up too quickly. I will probably send them both off with pressure cookers! ;-) When I lived in Europe, I made innumerable dishes in mine. Lentils were a favorite. Thank you for sharing one of the few dishes you have named, Ken and Jody! Best, Shanna PS Ken, You owe Michelle some fried olives. Get on that! ;-)

    • The chicken was great–and the leftovers (we made it twice) disappeared from the fridge in 1 day–eaten cold, which now leaves leaves us all dressed up with green olive sauce and no place except the latest batch of farro to go with it. Ken
      P.S. On behalf of Michelle and Steve, I accept your compliment.

  7. Roxanne must be thrilled to have such a lovely dish as her namesake. Much better than the broiled breasts with lemon and butter that I think I lived on my last 2 years of college. (With converted rice and frozen peas. Imagine that.) I was just griping to the butcher at Whole Foods the other day that they never seem to have skin-on thighs anymore. Where are the skins going? Alas, I will have to wait until the weather gets better and our local chicken vendors are back at the markets.

    • She shared the post with her friends on Facebook, along with the comment, “I’m actually getting emotional about this.” That’s interesting about the chicken at Whole Foods–the chicken thighs with skin came from one not far from us. I have a raft of issues with them (e.g. tried to buy allspice berries, lately, or Parmelat?) that I don’t want to uncork this early in the day. It’s frustrating because they’re often the only game in town, short of mail order. Anyway, thank you for the kind comment. Ken

      • I know that this thread could make a book, but I have to add this one. When you ask for something that they no longer have (lots of examples here, including California dried apricots, the large flakes of dried coconut, etc.), they always say “that product has been discontinued.” I’m sure they make them say it that way, but of course it suggests that the product no longer is made, when of course it means instead “we have discontinued buying that product.” Still, I’m glad they’re here.

  8. Now this is such a a great parting gift for a child going off to college. It is sure to serve her well during her college years and will be a pleasant reminder of them throughout the years to follow. It’s a great dish, too. Love the flavors and the use of thighs. That’s my kind of dish!
    I wish I had come around earlier. Just Sunday, I made a rather large jug of preserved lemons. Had I known, I would have made some in the Vietnamese style, too. I think I still might. I’d like to do a compare and see which result I prefer. Thanks for mentioning both blogs, Ken, and for sharing Jody’s recipe.

    • Hi, John – If you don’t get to the Vietnamese preserved lemons, we will. They do sound interesting, don’t they? As does the lemonade. Thanks for the kind words. Gifts like this are tinged with a bittersweet feeling. Everything changes. Glad to see you back in the saddle again

  9. Pingback: Super-easy recipes you can make with chicken | AEB VenturesAEB Ventures

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