“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
If I had been St. Paul, I would have been talking about onions. Man, I hated onions as a kid. Onions were enough to make me flee the table. They were almost as bad as tomatoes, and worse than the amber liquid beneath the tasty foamy head of my dad’s dinnertime glass of beer. Fortunately, I grew up, as children do, and now my world orbits around onions and tomatoes. I’ve been known to drink a beer too.
Funnily, I never felt this way about garlic. I’ve always adored garlic. Early on, ‘helping’ in the kitchen, I added so much crushed garlic to the seafood marinara my mother was preparing as to render it nearly inedible for the rest of the family; I thought it could use a touch more. When we made garlic bread I beat the crushed garlic into the butter and smeared the butter between the slits in the baguette. I was thrilled when Charlie Trotter taught me garlic could also be roasted until it was soft and made into soup. Although I never quite attained the fanaticism of my friend Alex who would eat raw garlic cloves rolled up in bread pellets for breakfast, I knew when I first saw this recipe that here was a dish I was going to like.
I believe I first encountered this recipe in John Thorne’s Outlaw Cook. I could be wrong about that. I was working fairly intensively as a cook (I once worked 45 days without a break) and drinking in my spare time, so details of that time are hazy in my memory. Even still, I know at that time I had my first cast iron pan and I was reading Thorne, so why not? I learn from that internet thing they have nowadays that this dish was invented by Philippe Gion, and again, why not? I’m sure all our recipes are very different. Mine has metamorphosed over the years: I used to leave the skin on the chicken and the husks on the garlic and cook it for so many hours it became a kind of fragrant slurry, but this is my current favorite tack. I gave it the above title because after I’d had it written up (in my crappy handwriting) on the kitchen whiteboard for about a week, my wife finally asked “what’s chicken with no class?”
Chicken with 40 cloves
40 cloves of garlic (about 3 decent heads. My bunch yielded 45 cloves)
1 lb chicken breast, cut up into bite-sized pieces
1 cup white wine
1 Tb thyme
2 Tb heavy cream
1 Tb flour
salt, fresh black pepper, unsalted butter, olive oil
Take your cloves of garlic and dump them all in a pot of boiling water for no more than a minute. This will make them much easier to peel while preserving the shape of the clove. You don’t want them poaching in there, though, leaching all their precious garlicky goodness into the water. Drain and peel the garlic.
Season the chicken with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat up a couple of tablespoons of butter and oil in a heavy pot and fry the chicken until it is nicely browned on the outside, about 5 minutes (don’t overcook it).
When the chicken is done, remove it with tongs or a wire ladle, and toss the garlic in the pot. Fry it a couple of minutes until it is browning too.
Add the wine, bring it to a low boil, and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen up all the fried sticky bits. Return the chicken to the pot and sprinkle with thyme. Cover and cook 30 minutes on low heat.
Remove the chicken and garlic to a bowl and put it in the oven to keep warm. Ladle out about ½ cup of the liquid into a bowl and whisk in the flour, then return it to the pot and stir well. Stir in the heavy cream and bring it to a low boil for a couple of minutes. Check the seasoning. Divide the chicken into two bowls and ladle the sauce on top.
I served this with pan-roasted asparagus, which is my favorite (actually my only) method of cooking asparagus. Break the woody tails off the asparagus spears and spread them out over a baking sheet. Drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix it around with your fingers until all the spears are nicely coated. Put the pan in a hot oven for about 10 minutes.