This chicken is the main dish of my favorite dinner party menu. But I’m not going to lie – there are good and bad aspects to making this dish for company. The advantage is that I’m pretty sure this is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten (although this comes close). It’s infused with the flavors of garlic and wine, it’s juicy, the skin is crispy, and it’s served up with a handful of roasted garlic cloves that are perfect for smearing on slices of baguette.
On the other hand, it’s fairly work-intensive. A lot of that work can be finished a few hours before dinner, but you can’t avoid some last minute cooking here. Years ago, I thought that if I had to do any cooking once my guests arrived, it meant I was being a bad host. These days, I don’t worry so much. My friends like to help, and they’re also perfectly happy to chat and drink their wine while I finish up the sauce for the chicken. I like to have a bit of a break between courses, so I’ll generally serve the salad, then finish the chicken.
But again, much of this dish can be prepared in advance. The chicken can be brined early in the day, then rinsed, dried, and refrigerated until needed. The recipe calls for a whole chicken to be cut in pieces, but I’ve used pre-cut pieces with no problem. The garlic and shallots can be roasted in advance and set aside. Of course all of the ingredients can be measured and set right where you need them. The most important thing is to relax – you fed your guests salad so they aren’t starving, they hopefully have good wine to drink, and this chicken is absolutely worth the wait.
I’m looking over the recipe right now, and I’m wondering if you could actually make everything ahead of time and just keep it in a slightly warm oven? (You’ll have to take it out to bake the goat cheese rounds if you’re making those, but that’s easy enough.) I think it would work. I’m going to try it tonight, and then I’ll update with the results. (Update: I tried it and it was a huge failure. Not saying it can’t be done correctly somehow, but what I did certainly didn’t work.)
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic (from Cooks Illustrated)
Serves 3 to 4
CI note: Try not to purchase heads of garlic that contain enormous cloves; if unavoidable, increase the foil-covered baking time to 40 to 45 minutes so that the largest cloves soften fully. A large Dutch oven can be used in place of a skillet, if you prefer. Broiling the chicken for a few minutes at the end of cooking crisps the skin, but this step is optional. Serve the dish with slices of crusty baguette for dipping into the sauce and onto which the roasted garlic cloves can be spread.
1 whole chicken (3½ to 4 pounds), cut into 8 pieces (4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks) and trimmed of excess fat.
Ground black pepper
3 large heads garlic (about 8 ounces), outer papery skins removed, cloves separated and unpeeled
2 medium shallots, peeled and quartered pole to pole
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
¾ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Dissolve ¼-cup salt in 2 quarts cold tap water in large container or bowl; submerge chicken pieces in brine and refrigerate until fully seasoned, about 30 minutes. Rinse chicken pieces under running water and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides of chicken pieces with pepper.
2. Meanwhile, toss garlic and shallots with 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in 9-inch pie plate; cover tightly with foil and roast until softened and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes, shaking pan once to toss contents after 15 minutes (foil can be left on during tossing). Uncover, stir, and continue to roast, uncovered, until browned and fully tender, 10 minutes longer, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven and increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.
3. Using kitchen twine, tie together thyme, rosemary, and bay; set aside. Heat remaining 1-teaspoon oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke; swirl to coat pan with oil. Brown chicken pieces skin-side down until deep golden, about 5 minutes; using tongs, turn chicken pieces and brown until golden on second side, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to large plate and discard fat; off heat, add vermouth, chicken broth, and herbs, scraping bottom of skillet with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Set skillet over medium heat, add garlic/shallot mixture to pan, then return chicken, skin-side up, to pan, nestling pieces on top of and between garlic cloves.
4. Place skillet in oven and roast until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast registers about 160 degrees, 10 to 12 minutes. If desired, increase heat to broil and broil to crisp skin, 3 to 5 minutes. Using potholders or oven mitts, remove skillet from oven and transfer chicken to serving dish. Remove 10 to 12 garlic cloves to mesh sieve and reserve; using slotted spoon, scatter remaining garlic cloves and shallots around chicken and discard herbs. With rubber spatula push reserved garlic cloves through sieve and into bowl; discard skins. Add garlic paste to skillet. Bring liquid to simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally to incorporate garlic; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in butter; pour sauce into sauceboat and serve.
Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.