In this chicken puttanesca recipe, chicken is pan-seared until golden brown and braised until fall-off-the-bone tender. The briny, garlicky tomato sauce bursts with bold Mediterranean flavor in just one pan and 40 minutes. Serve this no-fuss dinner recipe with crusty bread or fresh homemade focaccia.
Chicken puttanesca is a hearty and gluten-free twist on the Italian classic Pasta Puttanesca. This traditional Italian sauce is flavored generously with olives, capers, and anchovies making your weeknight dinner a true flavor party! Puttanesca, perhaps more than any other sauce, proves that simple pantry dinners can create truly exceptional meals!
Umami-rich anchovies, briny olives, and bright capers turn up the volume on a simple tomato base. The saucy dish gently cooks bone-in chicken thighs until they’re swimming in savory flavor and barely require a knife.
“Fishy” not your thing? Fear not! When cooked, anchovies mellow and melt into a complex, salty and savory taste. This deep flavor is more akin to a briny, meaty flavor that plays well with the other ingredients. Trust me on this. You're gonna love it.
However, if I’ve failed to convince you, start slow and add only four anchovy fillets. You can always work your way up to eight over time, since I know you’ll be making this one on repeat!
Table of Contents
Ingredients for Chicken Puttanesca
The beauty of a classic puttanesca sauce is that it uses almost exclusively pantry ingredients. Keep these staples on hand and to have puttanesca sauce at the ready.
- Chicken: I use bone-in, skin on chicken thighs and drumsticks because they stay juicy and have the most flavor. If you prefer a leaner cut, go ahead and substitute with chicken breast. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts tend to cook faster, so start checking on them at the 15-20 minute mark.
- Flavor-makers: Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and oregano perfume the dish and draw out the authentic Italian flavor. Red pepper flakes and garlic (and lots of it) give the dish a healthy kick. Leave out the red pepper flakes if you don’t like spicy.
- Lemon: Freshly squeezed lemon juice brings balance to all the briny flavors.
- Briney deliciousness: Anchovy, olives, and capers bring the distinct salty, tangy, and sea-like flavors that’s often described as “briny.” These dominant flavors are what makes a puttanesca what it is, so I don’t recommend substituting them. The amount of anchovy can be tweaked based on your preferences (though I promise they’re packed with umami flavor and not fishy!)
- Extra virgin olive oil: Use a smooth, buttery olive oil that won’t compete with the strong flavors of this dish. I use Nocellara, our Italian variety.
- San Marzano tomatoes: San Marzano tomatoes have a rich, sweet flavor that is balanced by their natural acidity. Plus, their meaty texture means they keep their shape when cooked.
- Parsley: A great big handful of chopped parsley leaves and tender stems adds a welcome freshness to this deeply savory Italian classic.
How to Cook Chicken Puttanesca
Chicken puttanesca builds big flavor quickly in just one pan. This no-fail recipe is served in a few easy steps.
- Get ready: Mince 5 large garlic cloves. Drain 3 tablespoons of capers and slice ½ cup of kalamata olives, removing the pit if necessary.
- Season the chicken: Use paper towels to pat the chicken very dry, then season generously all over with kosher salt and black pepper. Don't forget to rub some salt and pepper underneath the skin as well.
- Sear the chicken: In a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken, skin-side down. Cook until the skin is crispy and golden brown, about 5-8 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until the second side is golden brown as well, about 5 minutes more.
- Season and rest the chicken: Transfer the chicken to a large tray and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Juice one lemon over the chicken. Set aside.
- Start the sauce: Return the skillet to the stove, leaving the chicken fat in the pan. Turn the heat to medium. If the skillet is dry, add a splash of olive oil and then add 4-8 anchovy fillets. You're going to want to cook the anchovies for 2 minutes or so, pushing them around the skillet and scraping up any brown bits left on the pan. They will break down and almost melt into the oil, infusing it with umami flavor. This is the good stuff!
- Finish the sauce: Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Once the scent of garlic fills the air, stir in 28 ounces of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes. Next, add ¼ cup of sliced kalamata olives, and 1 ½ tablespoons of the capers. Finally, add 2 teaspoons of dried oregano and 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (if using). Stir gently to combine, then wait as the sauce comes to a simmer.
- Cook the chicken in the sauce: Nestle the chicken back into the skillet and spoon a bit of the sauce over top. Cover part way, and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked to 165°F and tender. This takes about 25 to 30 minutes depending on how large your pieces are. While the chicken cooks, chop enough parsley leaves and tender stems to yield ½ cup.
- Serve: Top with the remaining ¼ of olives and 1 ½ tablespoon of capers. Sprinkle the parsley and serve.
The Secret to Crispy Chicken Skin
Skin on chicken thighs and drumsticks are an especially forgiving cut of meat. Unlike chicken breast, they tenderize the longer they cook. That means you don’t have to worry about dry, bland chicken! Here are a few tips to make your chicken extra crispy on the outside.
- Pat very dry. Moisture is enemy number one when it comes to rendering chicken skin. Make sure the skin is nice and dry so it can crisp up.
- Don’t overcrowd. Rendering chicken is like getting a drink at a bar. It’s easier when it’s not crowded! Too many chicken pieces in your skillet will drop the temperature, which makes it nearly impossible to sear. If you have a smaller skillet, brown the chicken in batches.
- Don’t force the flip. Patience is your friend! Put on a podcast or some music and let the chicken cook on the skin side until golden brown and crispy. Flipping too soon may cause the skin to stick and tear. As the skin crisps, it releases from the pan. That’s how you know it’s ready.
What to Serve Chicken Puttanesca
Chicken Puttanesca is a full meal on its own, but you’ll likely want something to soak up all the sauce. Crispy homemade Rosemary Focaccia, hot and fresh out of the oven is a special treat. Plain noodles tossed with olive oil or crusty bread are also worthy contenders.
For sides, serve with something understated. You don’t want anything going head to head with puttanesca’s flavor. Your oven will be free, so throw in some Roasted Canned Artichoke Hearts for an easy side dish. Or, serve with a bright salad to compliment the brininess of the tomato sauce, like Simple Lemony Arugula Salad With Avocado.
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- 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (I used 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks)
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 lemon, juiced
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4-8 anchovy filets
- 5 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
- 3 tablespoons drained capers
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
- ½ cup chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
- Season the chicken: Use paper towels to pat the chicken pieces dry. Season well with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides. Rub some salt and pepper underneath the skin as well.
- Sear the chicken: In a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken, skin side down. Cook until the skin is crispy and golden brown, about 5-8 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side is golden brown as well, about 5 minutes more.
- Season and rest the chicken: Transfer the chicken to a large tray and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Pour the lemon juice over the chicken. Set it aside for now.
- Start the sauce: Turn the heat to medium. If the skillet is dry, add a little more olive oil. Add the anchovy filets. Cook for about 2 minutes or so, pushing the anchovies around the skillet. They will kind of melt into the oil and infuse it with flavor.
- Finish the sauce: Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, half of the olives, half of the capers, and the dried oregano and red pepper flakes (if using). Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat.
- Cook the chicken in the sauce: Add the chicken back into the skillet, nestling it in the sauce. Spoon a bit of the sauce over the chicken. Cover part way, either with a lid or a splatter guard. Cook until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, about 25-30 minutes, depending on how large the pieces are. A thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken should read 165°F.
- Serve: Garnish with the parsley and the remaining olives and capers and serve.
- If you have a smaller skillet, brown the chicken in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. This will help crisp the skin.
- Let the chicken sit, skin-side down, until the skin releases from the pan and becomes deeply golden brown. This takes about 5-8 minutes, and is worth every second.
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Our family LOVED this dish, will make it on a regular basis 🙂 we added a dollup of greek joghurt which added a very nice taste to it. also, i served it with couscous plus some warm white bread! I love your recipes, thank you so much for sharing
Made this for friends for dinner tonight! Followed your suggestion to serve with crusty bread. So delicious! This recipe is keeper. I followed it just as written. Will make this many more times I’m sure!
Yay! Thanks, Deb!
Fabulous meal. A definitely repeat in our home. Cooked recipe as directed with one slight exception.... I cooked all the olives and capers together, versus saving half for garnish. Just a personal preference. Yummy!
I made this for Sunday Dinner and I wasn't sure about the anchovies, because I had never cooked with them before. It was delicious!!
I have to add that I've made many dishes of yours and I love all of them!
Fantastic dish! Everyone around the table enjoyed it. I will be making this again.
Just tried this recipe and it will be saved to favorites.
Yay! Thanks, Bill!
This is a regular in our house; it’s so delicious and soooo Italian- thank you, we love it 🥰
Wonderful! Thanks, Kate!
This dish was easy to prepare and very flavorful. We will definitely try it with shrimp. Also think it would be good with seared pork chops.
Yum! Love those ideas, Tom. Thanks for sharing. Suzy also have a great pasta puttanesca recipe you should check out!
I haven't tried this recipe, though it sounds delicious. I do have a question, though. It's clear that a lot of attention is paid to properly crisping the chicken skin, but if you then finish the chicken by braising it in the tomato sauce, I don't see how the skin could possibly remain crispy, thus ruining all the effort you made to achieve crispy skin. Am I missing something here?
Hi, Lainey. The chicken will maintain a bit of the crispiness. More importantly, though, the searing helps lock in the moisture and flavor of the chicken.
Could I use sardines instead of anchovies?
Sure, Gail! That would work here.
Can you freeze the leftovers?
Have the garlic white bean Parmesan etc tonight. We love this meatless meal.
Love your cookbook.
Also tried the whipped feta dip. Couldn’t stop eating it. So yummy.
Love your recipes!
Aww, thank you! Yes, I think it would be okay to freeze the leftovers.