After last week’s disappointment with my venture into “retro American,” a plethora of chicken drumsticks found in the freezer along with another retro recipe, this one from the New York Times “Cooking” website, led me to attempt another American dish from 30 years ago: “Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic.” It’s an adaptation by Marion Burros from Jane and Michael Stern’s 1991 cookbook American Gourmet.
Perhaps the earliest version of this French bistro-style dish to gain a foothold on our shores was one by James Beard. In the early 60s, Julia Child wrote an essay for The Boston Globe titled “40 Cloves of Garlic May Not Be Enough” and recounted cooking it along with Beard during a visit. Since that time, there have been many variations, including ones from television chefs Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson.
I chose, however, to follow Burros’ recipe since it seemed closest to Beard’s, but I made a few departures from it. Rather than starting with raw chicken, I chose to sear the drumsticks, along with a couple of thighs so that the skin wouldn’t be rubbery after cooking. I also seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper after searing rather than seasoning the dish after assembling it for cooking. Finally, I may have added a tad more wine than called for since the pot was so loaded with ingredients and, because of what I had on hand, used 10 legs and 2 thighs as opposed to 8 of each.
I’m glad to report that the dish exceeded both our expectations. Our appetites had been whetted by the aromas that wafted throughout the room as the chicken cooked for 90 minutes. The chicken was cooked to perfection, with meat falling off the bone and infused with almost sweet garlic flavor, with whispers of tarragon and hints of nutmeg. The sauce was silky and richly flavored by the abundant celery and onion. As suggested by the recipe, we served the chicken accompanied by crusty bread spread with the buttery garlic that was even milder than when it’s roasted. The flavors lingered on the palate and left these two hungry diners well sated.
Chicken With 40 Cloves of Garlic (adapted from a recipe by Marian Burros on the New York Times “Cooking” website.)
3 tablespoon olive oil
8 chicken drumsticks
8 chicken thighs
2 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
4 celery ribs, cut into 4 inch-long thin strips
2 cups chopped onion
6 parsley sprigs
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
5 ounces dry vermouth
dash grated nutmeg
40 cloves garlic, unpeeled (about 3 large heads)
Freshly sliced crusty bread
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a 6-quart Dutch oven heat on medium high, 3 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering.
3. Dry the chicken pieces with paper towels and place them skin-side down in the pot and sear the skin until browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Work in batches if necessary.
3. Remove the chicken pieces from the pot to a plate and discard all but 2 or 3 tablespoons of the fat from the pot.
4. Season the chicken with the salt and black pepper.
5. Add the celery, onions, parsley, and tarragon to the pot and combine.
6. Lay the seared chicken pieces on top of the vegetables along with any accumulated chicken juices from the plate.
7. Pour on the vermouth. Sprinkle with a dash of nutmeg.
8. Tuck the garlic cloves in and around the chicken pieces.
9. Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil, and then the lid.
10. Bake 90 minutes without removing the lid.
11. Serve chicken, pan juices and garlic cloves on warmed plates with crusty bread. Diners should squeeze the buds of garlic from their husks onto the bread, then spread the garlic like butter.
Wine Pairing: Cabernet Franc