Behold, the most magnificent chicken dish ever. The recipe is Ina Garten’s and I believe it to be the best meal I’ve ever cooked – well, so far. There are quite a few steps but they are all relatively easy and you only use one pot, so the clean up is minimal. I was even able to make this meal on a weeknight. Of course we didn’t eat until after 9 o’clock but what with the time change, it didn’t seem that late. Ok, let me answer the inevitable question first. Yes, I actually used 40 cloves of garlic. A good amount of them are on the small side plus they cook for a long time, so they turn out completely soft and actually quite sweet. They are just delicious. I served the chicken with leftover mashed potatoes (I’m just going to go ahead and say it; mashed potatoes are a MUST with this dish) and steamed green beans.
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic (from Barefoot in Paris by the incomparable Ina Garten)
3 whole heads garlic, about 40 cloves
2, (3 1/2 lb) chickens, cut into eighths
Freshly ground black pepper
1 T unsalted butter
2 T olive oil
3 T Cognac, divided (I used a more affordable “no-name” brandy)
1 1/2 c dry white wine
1 T fresh thyme leaves
1 T cornstarch (Ina calls for 2 T all-purpose flour)
2 T heavy cream
Separate the cloves of garlic and drop them into a pot of boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain the garlic and peel. Set aside. Dry the chicken with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the butter and oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches, saute the chicken in the fat, skin side down first, until nicely browned, about 5 minutes on each side. Turn with tongs or a spatula; you don’t want to pierce the skin with a fork. If the fat is burning, turn down the heat to medium. When a batch is done, transfer it to a plate and continue to saute all the chicken in batches. Remove the last chicken to the plate and add all of the garlic to the pot. Lower the heat (to medium-low – Ina doesn’t specify, but that’s what worked for me) and saute for 5 to 10 minutes, turning often, until evenly browned. (It took at least 10 minutes.) Add 2 T of the Cognac and the wine, return to a boil, and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pot with the juices from the plate and sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Cover and simmer over the lowest heat for about 30 minutes, until the chicken is done. (Because the liquid didn’t cover the chicken completely in my Dutch oven, I basted the top pieces a few times during cooking.)
Remove the chicken to a serving dish or platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 c of the sauce and the cornstarch and then whisk it back into the sauce in the pot. Raise the heat, add the remaining tablespoon of Cognac and the cream, and boil for 3 minutes. Add the salt and pepper to taste; it should be very flavorful because chicken tends to be bland. Pour the sauce and garlic over the chicken and serve hot. (Reserve some sauce in a gravy boat for the mashed potatoes.)
*Ina says: To prepare ahead, refrigerate the chicken with the sauce and reheat over low heat before serving. This meal would be great for company, by-the-way.
I made this last week before I had the chance to explore the Dekalb Farmers Market for the first time, so I didn’t have the right chicken pieces. I did NOT want to chop up 2 chickens myself and so I ended up using 3 breasts and 10 thighs. (I have since been to the farmers market and it is Mecca. The selection and prices CANNOT be beat and I look forward to my first meat purchase there. The meat department is to-die-for.) This uneven mix of pieces is probably what caused my pot to be so full, so if you use what the recipe calls for you should be fine.
Look at that plate! It is stunning! Miraculous! Show stopping! Ok, I’ve gotten carried away, but I’m telling you – the entire meal was perfectly composed. (I under-cooked the green beans by like 45 seconds, but other than that, superb!) J’s plate was even more full than mine, if you can imagine, and we both cleaned our plates. And I mean CLEANED OUR PLATES. If I didn’t know any better I’d have thought we licked them clean. For leftovers a few days later (we were out of potatoes and beans) I made some white rice to go under the chicken and sauce. It was pretty good. It tasted kind of like gumbo or something.
I’m telling you – make this for your family or for your next dinner party. It’s even good for spring. It’s not too heavy and tastes fresh and lively. Ina recommends serving it with couscous (too bad it’s not gluten-free) and I bet that would be amazing. You could try quinoa mixed with herbs and lemon instead, to make it gluten-free-friendly. Either of those would make a great side if you served this in Spring or Summer. I told J I can’t wait to make this next time his parents are in town. I think they (and you!) will just love it!