I don’t think I had cooked any chicken since before Thanksgiving so this was a refreshing change of pace for us from all of the Christmas/New Year’s overindulging. Now that I think about it, I am pretty sure the last time we had a chicken dinner here at home I made 40 cloves of garlic chicken. It was the first time I tried my hand at it and Cheryl said ‘this would be a good blog post.’ As is often the case, she was correct.
I’ll confess, I’d never heard of 40 cloves of garlic chicken before last fall. A quick search on the interwebz confirmed people have been making this eponymous dish for quite a long time. Alton Brown, Martha Stewart, and Ina Garten all have recipes for it. Most intriguing though was a 1991 New York Times review about a food history/cookbook with ‘classics’ from the 1950’s and ‘60’s (also has a recipe for the chicken). Apparently the 40 cloves of chicken dinner was born in America during the mid-20th century French cuisine trend (of course that’s where it comes from!), then fell out of favor, then experienced a ‘classical revival,’ then forgotten as American appetites once again changed, and now it’s back again. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
Even with changing food trends I don’t know why this ever fell out. It’s a pretty simple and inexpensive dinner to make and it’s chicken. Seems like it should be in every home cook’s rotation as well as a prime candidate for an overpriced gastropub chicken dish. At its most basic all you need to do is plop chicken, wine, and garlic in a pot then bake covered for 90 minutes. What comes out is fall-of-the-bone chicken in a ridiculously garlicky wine sauce. Perfect for a weeknight meal (and leftovers) yet there is enough room for an adventurous home cook to transform it into a fancier Sunday dinner. Like with the sauce, for example.
Most recipes I read pretty much treated the wine sauce like you would mussels broth, smear the softened garlic on some crusty baguette pieces and dip in the remaining wine. I don’t think anyone would argue against this idea nor turn their nose up at it. However, I’m a fan of making a good sauce when you can and 40 cloves of garlic chicken has an excellent wine and garlic base to build upon.
Amping up a sauce basically comes down to what you season it with. Add mirepoix, herbs de Provence, a little lemon, parsley, and all of a sudden your sauce has layers of more flavor. The natural emulsifiers in the garlic do a pretty good job of thickening things up but to make it stand out even more I finished my sauce by whisking in a good dollop of Dijon-tarragon mustard. See? The chicken has a fancy sauce now. Yet simple.
Some recipes call for cutting up a whole chicken but I think the breasts get a little dried out after spending 90 minutes in the oven so I used chicken leg quarters instead. Even then I think 90 minutes is on the long side, especially if you have a convection oven. The meat was just on the borderline between juicy and dry. Very small nitpicking here but 75 minutes might give juicier chicken legs.
Food trends come and go but I have a feeling the only time 40 cloves of chicken will disappear from our house is when it gets served for dinner!
40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken (makes 6 servings)
- 40 whole cloves of garlic, peeled or unpeeled your call
- 6 chicken leg quarters
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 large parsnip, diced
- 1 large celery stalk, diced
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 C white wine (½ for cooking + ½ for the sauce)
- 1 tsp tarragon
- 2 tsp herbs de Provence
- 1 Tbs Dijon mustard (I used a tarragon Dijon mustard)
- Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Season the chicken leg quarters with salt and pepper.
In a large heavy bottomed pot, like a Dutch oven, over medium high, heat the olive oil. Brown the chicken pieces in batches. Set aside on a plate.
Add the carrot, parsnip, celery, and shallot to the pot. Cook until soft, about 4 minutes.
Pour in ½ C of the white wine. Bring to a simmer.
Place the chicken pieces back in the pot. Pour in any juices from the plate.
Add the 40 pieces of garlic and tuck them in and around and under all of the chicken.
Cover the pot and put in oven.
Cook for 90 minutes without removing the cover to peek in.
Remove from oven. Carefully remove chicken legs from the pot, they will be falling apart. Set aside on a plate.
Strain the vegetables out of the cooking liquid and return the liquid to the pot. Pick out the garlic pieces.
Add the remaining ½ C of wine and simmer for a few minutes on the stove top. Whisk in the mustard and parsley. Squeeze a lemon wedge into the sauce and whisk. Add the garlic back into the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings, add salt and pepper if needed.
Drizzle on top of the chicken and serve.