One of my go-to books for Neapolitan cooking is Naples at Tableby New York based food maven, Arthur Schwartz. The book is a veritable tome of authentic recipes gathered by the author during his travels in Campania, a region in southern Italy, the capital of which is Naples.
The “Introduction” provides a wealth of background information on the history and culture of the region and the prefaces to each of the book’s sections, as well as the many sidebars, are chockablock with culinary advice and guidance. Arthur’s encounters with home cooks personalize many of the recipes, like the one I chose for dinner last night: Pollo al Limone di Agata Lima (Agata Lima’s Lemon Chicken).
This dish does require some babysitting to ensure that the chicken pieces do not stick to the pan, but with good company in the kitchen and a glass of wine, the time passes quickly. I should also point out that since the recipe does not call for any browning of the chicken and all the cooking is done over a low flame, the chicken takes on only a pale-gold color. Nevertheless, the dish’s intense lemon and herb flavors compensate for any chromatic deficiency. In fact, the finished dish reminded me of many chicken or rabbit offerings on Italian trattoria menus labeled “in bianco.”
As you will see from my italicized parenthetical comments, I made very few departures from the original recipe. I substituted well-trimmed, skin-on, bone-in thighs for the cut up chicken because we prefer dark meat. I also added the zest of one of the lemons to intensify the citrus flavor.
I served the dish with some string beans which I had on hand, but I think a side of rosemary and garlic oven roasted potatoes would have been a welcome addition.
Pollo al Limone di Agata Lima
From Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz
Serves 4 (at least)
1 3½- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces (I opted for 10 well trimmed bone-in skin-on thighs.)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed
12 or more large sage leaves
2 or 3 6-inch sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped off the stem
½ cup dry white wine
2/3 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (I added the zest of one lemon.)
1 rounded tablespoon finely cut flat-leaf parsley
1. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
2. Arrange the chicken (skin-side down) in a skillet or sauté pan that can hold it all in 1 layer – a 10- to 12-inch pan. The chicken may crowd the pan. Tuck in the garlic, the sage, and the rosemary. Do not add any oil or fat. (I cheated here and lightly misted my pan with some olive oil.)
3. Set over low heat and continually shake the pan or jiggle the pieces of chicken so they don’t stick to the pan. After a few minutes, the chicken’s fat and juices will start running, and this will become less of a problem.
(Note: This first stage of cooking took approximately 10 minutes, which is the amount of time I waited between each of the subsequent turns of the meat.)
4. Turn the chicken pieces. Continue to cook over low heat, turning the chicken frequently. It will not brown, but will take on color. If the chicken juices accumulate in the pan, more than just skimming the bottom of the pan (because the chicken is particularly moist), increase the heat slightly.
5. After about 15 minutes, when the chicken has taken on some color, add ½ the white wine. When the first addition of wine has nearly evaporated, in about 10 minutes, add the remaining wine. There should never be more than a skimming of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Keep turning the chicken frequently.
6. When the second additional of wine has evaporated, add ½ the lemon juice (and, if using, the lemon zest). When the first addition of lemon juice has reduced, add the remaining juice. Altogether, the chicken will cook about 50 minutes. In the end there should be very little sauce – just a few spoons of reduced juices and fat.
7. Arrange the chicken on a platter. Scrape whatever is left in the pan – herbs, garlic juices – into a strainer. With a spoon or spatula, Press the juices out of the solids and let them drip over the chicken.
8. Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley. (As you can see from my photos, I forgot the parsley.)
Wine Pairing: Frascati, Fiano di Avellino