- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Like millions of others, I love the Academy Awards show. I remember as a child how special Oscar night was in our family.

My mother would pass around a huge bowl of popcorn, and we would devour it while watching the Hollywood glitterati accept their statuettes. Over the years, I’ve continued the tradition of enjoying this annual event with others.

My husband is a movie buff, and in the past we have enjoyed hosting Oscar potlucks. At other times, we’ve set out appetizers and wine or offered dessert and coffee during the show.

When I marked the date — Sunday — on my calendar, I discovered that we had already invited friends for an overnight visit. My husband was far more sanguine about the conflict. He reasoned that there would be plenty of time to catch up with our company in the afternoon when they arrived. We could then have an early dinner and finish with dessert in front of the television.

A quick call to our pals confirmed this as a workable plan, so I began to think about the menu. For openers, a log of creamy goat cheese served with French bread and a bowl of Spanish Marcona almonds would require little work.

Roasted chicken thighs with lemon and olives, saffron rice, and a saute of red peppers, carrots and onions would make a colorful main course, while an apricot tart baked early in the day would end the meal.

The chicken entree is a delicious make-ahead dish. The inspiration came from a recipe in an English magazine for rabbit roasted with lemon, olives and potatoes. I reworked the original using chicken thighs (which are moister than breasts when baked) and omitting the potatoes.

The chicken is browned, then combined with sauteed shallots and garlic. Oregano, parsley, olives, lemon juice and zest, and white wine are added before the chicken goes in the oven. When done, the chicken thighs are fork tender and permeated with the robust seasonings.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this chicken will give an Oscar-worthy performance on Academy Awards night, as well as on many other evenings with friends.

Roasted chicken thighs with lemon and green olives

3 large thick-skinned lemons

8 chicken thighs with skin, about 6 ounces each (3 pounds total)

Salt and pepper

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup chopped shallots (about 3 medium shallots)

4 teaspoons chopped garlic (about 3 large cloves)

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/4 cup chopped parsley, divided

2/3 cup green Mediterranean olives, pitted or unpitted (see note)

11/4 cups dry white wine

Grate the zest of 2 lemons to yield 2 tablespoons zest and juice one or more of these two lemons to yield 1/4 cup juice. Cut the third lemon into 8 wedges for the garnish. Set aside.

Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Trim and discard any excess fat or dangling skin.

Salt and pepper the thighs generously on both sides. Add 3 or more tablespoons oil (enough to coat the bottom) to a large ovenproof skillet with a lid.

Place skillet over medium high heat and when oil is very hot but not smoking, add chicken pieces in a single layer and brown on all sides, turning several times, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove chicken to a side dish. Reserve 4 to 5 tablespoons oil or enough to coat bottom of skillet generously. Discard the other oil.

Set skillet over medium high heat and add shallots. Cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic, oregano and half of the parsley and stir and cook a minute. Return chicken to pan along with lemon zest and juice, olives and wine.

Bring mixture to a simmer, then cover skillet and place it on center rack of preheated 375-degree oven. Bake an hour, then remove lid and bake about 10 minutes more to let juices reduce slightly. Watch carefully so that juices do not evaporate. The chicken can be prepared a day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, covered, over low heat, stirring often.

Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Pour any juices in pan over the chicken. Sprinkle chicken with remaining parsley and garnish with lemon wedges. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Picholine or Lucques olives are good green French olives that can be used in this recipe.

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