I believe that it’s important to have at least one really good chicken recipe in your array of kitchen skills. It needs to be one that you know from heart and can make no matter where you’re cooking or how limited the assortment of available tools. It’s even better if it’s a dish that can be made with easily available ingredients that are unaffected by the changes in season.
Beyond those requirements, the actual chicken dish can be just about anything. The ability to truss a whole chicken and roast it until its skin browns and crackles beautifully certainly counts. A Pyrex pan of chicken legs, painted with honey-mustard dressing and baked until tender is always a good option. I’ve even known people to employ a slow cooker in their quest for the ideal chicken recipe.
Recently, in my ongoing search for the consummate chicken dish, I spotted Alton Brown’s recipe for 40 Cloves and a Chicken. I was fairly certain it would be love at first bite. He has you brown the chicken, top it with fresh thyme and an obscene number of garlic cloves (yes, 40) and bake until the meat is tender and the garlic nearly melts into the pan juices. Oh, yes.
I plan on making this dish many more times, preferably on chilly Sunday afternoons, when running the oven seems like a perfect, cozy choice. With its requirement that you peel 40 cloves of garlic and nearly 2 hours in prep and cook time, it’s just right for The Weekender.
Before you heat your skillet, here are a few things you should know.
- Thoroughly pat your chicken dry before tossing it with the oil, salt and pepper. The less water on the skin, the better a sear you’ll achieve.
- Daunted by the number of garlic cloves? Don’t be. I managed to get exactly 40 cloves from three heads of garlic and peeling took less than 10 minutes. When you pick out your garlic, make sure to look for heads that are tight and heavy for their size.
- Don’t let the 1/2 cup of olive oil deter you from making this recipe. The chicken doesn’t absorb the extra fat, it just helps keep it silky and tender during cooking.
- I served a salad of baby arugula with this dish and drizzled a bit of balsamic vinegar and the garlic-scented oil from the pan over the greens in place of a prepared dressing.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. She grew up attending weekly potlucks and even had a potluck wedding. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook will be published by Running Press in Spring 2012.
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