Chicken sautéed with Olives, a Spanish Tapa


Chicken sautéed with Olives, a Spanish Tapa 

Tapas in Spain began centuries ago as bread slices set atop glasses of wine, such as sherry, at taverns. "Tapa" means a "lid" or "cover." The point of the tapa was to give the drinker a little solid food along with his wine.-- or perhaps to keep the fruit flies out of it. A thin slice of ham from the omnipresent dry cured ham leg at the establishment could be added to the bread, or a slice of cheese.

By the 20th century, chefs began creating special small dishes to accompany wine, and tapas became the draw to the bar even more than the wine. Tapas can be highly varied, depending on the imagination of the chef, the season, and the region of the country. Cheese, ham, roasted almonds, and  olives are very common, but small seafood dishes show up at the Mediterranean coast and tiny grilled pork tenderloin  kebabs (Pinchos, or Pinchitos, Morunos) in mountainous Basque country.

Here is one of my favorites, chicken sautéed with olives, Pollo con Aceitunas. It is similar to what we make at the restaurant for catering buffets, The seasonings include bay leaf, paprika, sherry and honey. The dish can be served warm or at room temperature. It certainly can pair with a dry sherry, but it works well with many white wines.

The recipe makes enough for small tapa-sized servings for six or more people, but multiples of the recipe are easy for making buffet-table quantities. 


1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon sherry

7/8 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 small onion, very finely minced or pureed in the food processor

1 medium-large clove of garlic, finely minced or pureed in the food processor with the onion

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons honey

1/2 cup small pimento-stuffed “Spanish” olives

1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnish


Trim away any tough parts and fat from the chicken and cut the flesh in 3/4-inch cubes. Marinate (at least 20 minutes) with the lemon juice, sherry, salt, coriander, cornstarch, paprika and pepper, stirring occasionally. While the chicken marinates, prepare the onion, garlic, tomato, and olives, keeping them in separate piles. 

Heat the oil to medium high in a frying pan. Fry the onion-garlic mixture, stirring frequently, until it begins to turn pale golden. Add the bay leaf and  chicken and its marinade, and stir and fry until the raw color is gone from the chicken. Then fry another 3 minutes, stirring often. Lower the heat and stir in the honey and olives. Heat for about two minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste the sauce, and add a little salt, if necessary. Stir in about half the parsley.

When serving, dust with the remaining parsley.

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