This classic chicken in garlic sauce is nowhere near as garlicky as you’d think
Here’s my recipe for cooking the perfect French chicken with 40 cloves of garlic
Perfect French chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. Photograph: iStock
Flicking through my parents’ copy of Nigel Slater’s Real Food as an impressionable teenager, one impossibly daring recipe leapt out: chicken with 40 cloves of garlic may have already been a bit old hat in Nigella Lawson’s childhood, but where I lived such a quantity still seemed, as Lawson notes, “somehow dangerously excessive”. An older colleague at my first summer job always wrinkled her nose if I’d as much as sniffed a clove the night before, so 40 would probably have moved her to tears. (Unsurprisingly, I never plucked up the courage to test her.)
The idea is often described as Provencal, though Elizabeth David makes reference to similar dishes from both the Dauphine, slightly farther north, and the Bearn, in the southwest of France, so, in the absence of firm evidence to the contrary, it seems more than likely that chicken was prepared with large amounts of garlic wherever large quantities of garlic were grown.
The elevation of that bulb to star turn seems to have occurred in the US, where in 1954 James Beard published the first recipe calling for the now sacrosanct 40 cloves – which, as Betty Trussell points out, was at that point tantamount to joining the Communist party – and sparked far more than 40 imitations. It pops up in Gourmet magazine, the New York Times and the Silver Palate Cookbook before crossing the Atlantic to find favour with the Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, and Keith Floyd, to name just two.
Almost everyone has their own take. This is my combination of them all, and for me it’s perfect.
Perfect chicken with 40 cloves of garlic
Prep 30 minutes
Cook 1 hour
4 large heads of garlic (wet or standard)
1 tbs olive oil
1 chicken (about 1½kg)
Salt and pepper (or grated nutmeg)
4 sprigs fresh thyme
250ml dry vermouth (or white wine)
250ml chicken stock (or water)
1 Heat the oven to 200 degrees (gas 6). Separate the garlic into individual cloves, discarding the papery outer layer, but otherwise leaving them unpeeled.
2 Pierce any very small cloves with a sharp knife, then set the lot aside for the time being.
3 Grease a casserole dish that’s a little bigger than the chicken itself with olive oil, then put on a high heat.
4 Season the chicken, then brown it on all sides as best as you can (tongs are useful here), lift it out and set aside, and turn down the heat to medium.
5 Add the garlic and half the thyme to the pot, toss to coat in the fat, and season. Pour in the vermouth (or wine) and stock (or water), then put the chicken on top; put any small garlic cloves, plus the remaining thyme, into the bird’s cavity first.
6 Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover the pot and put in the oven for about 45 minutes.
7 Take off the lid and roast the chicken uncovered for another 15 minutes, to help brown the skin slightly, then check to see if it’s cooked through – the juices should run clear from the thickest part of the thigh. If not, return to the oven for a few minutes more.
8 Once the chicken is ready, lift it out of the pot and put it in a warm place to rest.
9 Meanwhile, scoop out the garlic cloves from the sauce with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool slightly. Return the pot to the hob, bring up to a simmer, then bubble until the liquid has reduced by about a third.
10 Carefully squeeze out the garlic cloves from their skins and set about half of the plumpest, most handsome ones aside. Mash the rest of the garlic into the sauce, taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
11 Transfer the chicken to a platter, surround it with the reserved whole cloves of garlic and serve with the sauce on the side. – Guardian