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Our Favorite Black Olives

Black olives can be meaty, juicy, briny, rich, snappy, salty, or funky—equally fit for making pungent tapenade as they are for snacking out of hand. But they don’t start out that way.
By Published May 29, 2019

Shopping Note

We’ve found that pitted olives are inferior to unpitted ones. After pitting, the olives are returned to the brine for packing. The brine can penetrate the inside of the olive and turn it mushy as well as increase the absorption of salt. That saltier taste can mask subtler flavors. If you have the time, buy unpitted olives and pit them yourself.

If you were to bite into a raw olive plucked right off the tree, you’d cringe at the profound bitterness that comes from a compound called oleuropein. Oleuropein exists in the fruit as a protective agent against predators. Only once olives are cured do they shed their bitterness (curing draws out the oleuropein and converts the olives’ natural sugars into lactic acid) and take on those aforementioned appealing olive-y qualities.

The particular curing agent—brine, dry salt, or lye—largely determines the flavor and texture of a cured olive; other factors include genetic makeup, climate, and degree of ripeness when harvested. (Ripeness, not variety, actually determines olive color, too; all olives start out green and darken as they ripen to shades ranging from dark purple to jet black.) Brine- and salt-cured (often misleadingly labeled “oil-cured”) olives are the most common, and in a well-stocked market you’ll find multiple varieties of both. Here are six of our favorites.

Kalamata

Grown in: Greece

Curing method: Brine

Profile: Meaty, bright, earthy, floral

Alfonso

Grown in: Peru

Curing method: Brine, then steeped in either wine or red wine vinegar

Profile: Plump, very soft, juicy, tangy, winey

Niçoise

Grown in: France

Curing method: Brine; often stored with herbs

Profile: Soft, sweet, earthy, slightly smoky; low flesh-to-pit ratio

Gaeta

Grown in: Italy

Curing method: Dry salt or brine, then dipped in oil

Profile: Bitter, buttery, fruity

Ligurian (Taggiasca)

Grown in: Italy

Curing method: Brine; often stored with herbs

Profile: Meaty, smoky, lightly salty

Nyon

Grown in: France

Curing method: Dry salt, then soaked in olive oil or brine to rehydrate

Profile: Leathery, earthy, salty; intense coffee-like bitterness

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.