Skip to main content
Menu
Search
Menu
Close

We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Email is required
How we use your email address

Our Favorite Black Olives

By Steve Dunn Published

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.

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

Recipe Black Olive Tapenade

After fine-tuning every element in this rich, lusty Provençal spread, we still hadn’t managed to tame its saltiness. Finally, we found inspiration across the border.

Recipe Bruschetta with Black Olive Pesto, Ricotta and Basil

There’s a whole lot more to bruschetta than chopped tomatoes and basil. We wanted smart flavor combinations that didn’t require a bib.

Recipe Sicilian Eggplant Relish (Caponata)

This sweet and sour eggplant relish from Sicily provides a great complement to meat or fish—but not if the vegetables are mushy and the flavors out of balance.

Recipe Summer Pasta Puttanesca

A bumper crop of sweet, ripe tomatoes can brighten the pungent flavors of this Italian classic—or leave the noodles drowning in a waterlogged sauce.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
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.