Chicken and Forty Cloves of Garlic

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.

ingredients arranged on a cutting board

(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.

chicken covered with salt, pepper, and thyme leaves on a cutting board, garlic cloves in the background

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.

John Thorne talks about this dish in Outlaw Cook. And the story around Alice Brock (of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacree fame) is not to be missed.

 

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.

braised chicken and forty cloves of garlic on a serving platter

braised chicken and forty cloves of garlic on a serving platter

Chicken and Forty Cloves of Garlic

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: French
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Author: Bill

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. 

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Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Brown the chicken, searing it on both sides, about 5 minutes per side, until golden.

  4. Add the garlic cloves and chicken stock in the spaces around the chicken.

  5. Cover tightly and cook in a pre-heated 400°F oven for one hour and fifteen minutes.

  6. Serve with toasted crusty bread to spread the garlic on.

Be well, friends, and thank you for stopping by. Cook for each other and until next time, peace.
Bill (signature)

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10 thoughts on “Chicken and Forty Cloves of Garlic

  1. What a fun and interesting recipe, Bill! First off, I have to comment on the fresh thyme. I grew thyme last year, and it ended up taking over the garden! In fact, it came back at the beginning of this year (all woody and not really usable), and I had to rip it all out. Oh well. Second, 40 cloves! I did a double-take when I first read that one. I love garlic, and I can see how the cloves would season this chicken as it cooks. And it’s just fun! The only other time I use that much garlic at once is when I make a batch of roasted garlic. Come to think of it, I wonder how roasted garlic would taste in this recipe. Hmmm…I might need to find out!

    • David, in my research I was surprised how many cooks and chefs regularly make this recipe for their families but don’t seem to talk much about it. Yes, it is fun and is overwhelmingly well-received every time. Like a guilty pleasure you don’t have to feel guilty about!

  2. Bill, we cook this dish in the spring when we get the big range feed chickens. It’s simply called Kyckling med 40 vitlöksklyftor (Chicken with 40 garlic cloves) in Swedish and the only difference is we use wine instead of stock and toss in some rosemary. A great dish and you honored it well.

  3. wow. what a lovely post. Food is love. I have never dared used unpeeled garlic cloves, but I like your idea of popping them out and spreading the cloves on bread! I would love this meal as a first date meal!

  4. I love simple, honest fare like this! I definitely agree that not peeling is the way to go. The garlic would otherwise risk becoming overwhelming as it melted into the sauce. This way the flavor gently infuses into the sauce, plus you have the braised garlic to spread on bread. A win-win in my book.

    • You hit the nail right on the head, Frank. I think that’s why the dish works so well too. And spread on the bread is phenomenal :). Thanks for dropping by!

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