I’m searching for the right word. Maybe you can help me?
Every once in a while, you share a special meal with someone or a few someones. And it’s a magical event. You’re so close to each other, if for no other occasion than this meal.
You can look back on such a memory, which almost always stretched well into the evening or nighttime, and remember it as being somehow deeper than most others. Something special was shared. It’s hard to explain, perhaps harder to describe. But hopefully, you recognize it.
But you can’t plan for it. You can’t make it happen at will. It just does.
Is it visceral? Not primal. Spiritual? Sybaritic? Nah, way too fancy a word. It’s a quirk of the food, time, people, or surroundings.
Is there a word for this?
For sure, some foods can help invite these occasions.
(My apologies, I got so caught up that I forgot to put the cup of chicken stock in the picture — it was still thawing in the fridge.)
Start with a good chicken. I won’t lecture you. Or judge. But it really helps. Local, cared for, with love, and fresh.
Good garlic helps too, obviously. Some of the garlic I see in the stores makes me so sad. Fresh garlic must permeate a room when cooked until it draws you in and the aroma toys with you.
That said, it takes three or four heads of garlic to get forty good cloves. How great does that sound?
The thyme is from my plants out back. It grew like crazy this year, just begging to be used. Carefully remove the leaves and discard the stems. You should have at least a good tablespoon to work with. A little more won’t hurt you.
Into the cavity of the chicken goes generous grinds of salt and pepper, a bay leaf, a good pinch of the thyme, and as many quarters of your lemon as there is still room for.
Then, salt, pepper, and sprinkle the rest of the thyme leaves all over the outside of the bird. Both sides.
Use a heavy pot big enough to snugly hold the chicken. I prefer one of enameled cast-iron.
Heat it over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add a couple tablespoons of oil, wait for a minute until it heats up, then carefully sear each side of the chicken (breast side first, then back side) until it crisps up a bit and turns a golden color. About 5 minutes per side.
Breast side should be up now. Scatter the unpeeled garlic cloves around the sides of the pan and then pour in the chicken stock. Don’t pour it over the bird, it’ll wash off the good stuff.
Cover tightly with a lid. Into a 400 degree oven for an hour and a quarter — assuming a three pound bird.
So, while that’s cooking, here’s what I know.
This isn’t a recipe you’ll find in most cookbooks. There’s not a whole lot of recipe to it. This is old-world peasant food of the finest kind. It’s about celebrating and honoring the food.
I found a very close recipe in one of my older European cookbooks called simply “Garlic Chicken, French.” I’m sure it’s the same song, just in a different key.
Some of the online recipes I found call for the chicken to be cut into pieces. Some peel the garlic. Alton Brown did both! His logic was sound too. Who’s to argue with that? But while I’m sure that’s all fine and good, I prefer neither of those. I want none of it today. You do you.
Dorie Greenspan had a lovely, and decidedly more elaborate, recipe in Around My French Table. A fantastic cookbook, I’d recommend it highly. Or anything she writes for that matter. She called hers chicken in a pot: the garlic and lemon version and used preserved lemons, bit of sugar, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, and so on. Still the abundance of garlic though.
Public service announcement: this is probably not first date food. But if it is, for some unknown reason, and the magic happens, you might have found a soul mate.
Okay, so once the chicken’s done cooking, be sure to leave the lid on until everyone’s gathered around and you’re ready for the oh, man! and just. look. at. that. which is followed by the wow that smells amazing! chorus.
Everybody eat with your hands here. Get a little messy. It’s not only okay, it’s appropriate.
And please, you must serve this with thick slices of toasted or grilled crusty bread. Pinch the end of a garlic clove and spread the manna on the bread.
To die for.
Serve with a green salad as if someone might later notice.
Chicken and Forty Cloves of Garlic
There are certain dishes that naturally invite friends and family eagerly to the table and braised chicken with forty cloves of garlic is one of the best.
- 3 pound chicken, whole
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 40 cloves garlic, unpeeled, 3-4 heads
- 1 cup chicken stock
- salt and pepper, generously
Generously sprinkle salt and pepper into the cavity of the chicken. Insert a bay leaf, a pinch of thyme leaves, and as many quarters of the lemon as will fit.
Heat a heavy pot that will snugly fit the chicken over medium-high heat. Add the oil and allow it to heat up for a minute as well.
Brown the chicken, searing it on both sides, about 5 minutes per side, until golden.
Add the garlic cloves and chicken stock in the spaces around the chicken.
Cover tightly and cook in a pre-heated 400°F oven for one hour and fifteen minutes.
Serve with toasted crusty bread to spread the garlic on.