“Wait a second,” said Mr. Cay when I informed him that I intended to make a dish called ‘Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic’ for dinner. “Is this actually a real recipe or something you’ve made up because you really really like garlic?” For a moment, I worried that he’d rumbled my devious plan. You see, I absolutely adore garlic. Can’t get enough of the stuff. I would have it for breakfast, lunch and tea if I could. At one of my former jobs, a colleague remarked that she always knew when I’d been in the lift because of the lingering smell of alliums I trailed in my wake. (She was fond of spraying asthma-attack-inducing amounts of cheap Avon perfume everywhere for kicks though, so I tried not to take her remarks too personally).
My love of garlic doesn’t just stem from an overwhelming urge to dispel vampires. If I had to choose, I’d say its one of my all time favourite ingredients, if only because it makes everything just taste so much better. So, the idea of roasting 40 cloves of the stuff in a slick of oil and butter until they turned soft and sweet and golden was just too good an idea to ignore.
There appears to be a million and one different recipes for Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, and it feels as though every single one gives you a different (and allegedly ‘best’) method. Some say you should peel the garlic first. Others (like this Guardian recipe for “‘Perfect’ Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic”) say that this is an absolute no-no. And then there’s the question of how you should roast your bird. Should you use white meat or dark? Legs or thighs? Roast the bird whole, or chop it up into little pieces, smother them in goo and pray for the best?
In the end, I went with a recipe from a source I knew that I could trust – namely Helen Graves of Food Stories. I’ve mentioned before how much I love Food Stories. Funny, and full of brilliant recipes and beautiful photography, it’s one of my favourite food blogs out there. I knew that her method wouldn’t let me down, if only because I’ve yet to find a dud recipe on there yet. Best of all her method requires you to roast the bird whole – perfect for those people (like me) whose butchery skills are ‘remedial’ at best.
What you’re left with is a beautiful moist bird, full of pep and flavour. The garlic doesn’t overwhelm, instead, it sweats down in all of the oil and butter to yield lots of delightfully squidgy paste (which I highly recommend that you take the time to smother all over some very good bread). If you wanted to, you could serve your chicken with some mashed potatoes or parmesan spiked rice, but I preferred to just accompany mine with some seasonal vegetables. (And plenty of wine). Best of all is the huge slick of scented oil you find washing around the bottom of your casserole dish afterwards – the perfect thing to use if you’re thinking of creating a kick ass garlic mayonnaise to dunk some chips into.
So, to answer my almost-husband’s question, yes, Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic is a real recipe. And a bloody delicious one too. Although it’s probably a good thing my other half likes garlic as much as I do. This may not be the kind of dish you’d want to serve up on a first date.
CHICKEN WITH 40 CLOVES OF GARLIC (Serves four)
Recipe adapted (slightly) from Food Stories
You will need:
- One medium-sized (preferably free range) chicken
- 40 cloves of garlic (that’s roughly four whole bulbs worth), papery bits removed but not peeled
- 250ml olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 1/2 of an unwaxed lemon
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tsp tarragon
- 1 tsp thyme
- A good glug of white wine (or vermouth if you have any handy)
- Plenty of salt and pepper to season
- Heat your oven to 200 degree C/Gas Mark 4.
- Un-truss the chicken and remove all fat from the cavity – if you look just inside there are two blobs, one on either side – cut them off. (I used a pair of kitchen scissors to do this). Drizzle a little oil over the chicken and rub it in. Brown the chicken all over on the stove. You can use your casserole or roasting dish for this if it’s big enough, and then just transfer it into the oven. (I used a rather convoluted method of browning it in my big stock pot before transferring it to a casserole dish).
- Surround the with the garlic cloves, herbs and bay. Make a compound butter by mashing the herbs together with the butter, then stick that and the lemon inside the cavity. Pour the oil and vermouth around. Season the chicken very generously (I like Thomas Keller’s method of raining sea salt over the skin of the bird), then cover with foil (or the lid of your casserole dish) and seal tightly.
- Roast for 45-90 minutes depending on the size of your chicken. Baste the bird 2-3 times while it is cooking. To get the skin nice and crispy, take the lid off your dish towards the end of the cooking process. The chicken is cooked when you insert a skewer at the thickest part of the leg and when pressed gently, the juices run clear. The legs will also feel looser when the bird is cooked.
- Rest the bird with its legs in the air, covered with foil. It will sit happily for at least 20 minutes, while you prepare your side dishes. Serve with a little of the oil drizzled over the top, seasonal vegetables, good fresh bread and a glass of crisp white wine.