I have a problem where the mere description of a wonderful meal by a friend causes me to think endlessly about it. I cannot get the idea of the food out of my head until I make a point of either searching it out at a restaurant or recreating the recipe at home. In this particular case it was “Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic”, and the occasion was over three years ago.
I was wandering an art gallery in Georgetown with a close friend and an acquaintance of hers. I did not know this guy, but my ears perked up when I heard him mention an amazing dinner party he attending the prior evening.
“What was on the menu?” I asked, since any time I can turn a conversation to food, I will.
“Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic,” he said as if revealing a big secret, “and it was the best thing I have ever tasted”.
I wasn’t immediately impressed, as I was imagining a well orchestrated, multi-course dinner where each plate consisted of several well-crafted components. Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic on the other hand is a relatively simple, Provencal style one-pot dish that as far as I can tell went out of fashion in the 70′s. But what is so wrong with simple? As I conjured up images of this meal I thought of succulent, roast chicken with a moist flesh and crispy, caramelized skin. There is a good reason why many professional cooks cite this as their ultimate comfort food.
Adding copious amounts of garlic to this just gilds the lily. The white, pungent nubs turn creamy, sweet and caramelized during the roasting process. Sprigs of fresh rosemary and wedges of lemon add depth of flavor to the chicken as it cooks, and what you’re left with and hour or so later is simply sublime. It is the type of dish that you want to have lots of crusty bread with to sop up all of the juicy, roasted bits at the bottom of the pan, and I often do this before I even slice into the actual chicken.
To accompany the roast, a tangle of baby greens dressed lightly with a dijon vinaigrette is all you really need. The crunchy bitterness of the greens, and the acidity of the dressing balances out the buttery flavors of the bird. Mustard roasted potatoes are another wonderful addition to this meal, and can be a substitute for the aforementioned crusty bread. I like to serve the entire meal family style, on a large platter that guests can pick from. Be sure to smear plenty of the soft, roasted garlic all over the chicken before serving, and with forty cloves worth, that shouldn’t be a problem.
1 large roasting chicken, innards removed
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, thyme or sage (or a combination of all three)
2 whole lemons, halved
40 cloves of garlic, peeled
kosher salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a roasting pan or large sheet pan with parchment paper and place the chicken on top. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the fresh herbs and 2 lemon halves. Place the garlic and remaining lemon in the pan alond side, and generously drizzle the entire thing with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper then roast in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken registers 170 degrees (from both the center of the breast and the leg). Allow the bird to rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serve each portion with a generous smearing of the caramelized garlic cloves and a squeeze of the roasted lemon juice.