I was making one of my all-time favorite dishes, Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. Though I’ve made it a hundred times before, this time I was actually making it to see how it would pair with some of the wines we’re sending to our Wine Club next month. As I was thinking about that and busily cooking it occurred to me that this would also be a great suggestion for Valentine’s Day dinner, I should share the recipe with all of you.
And then it happened, as I stood at the stove and pulled the thyme leaves off their stems and dropped them into the already aromatic garlic and wine in the pan, the fragrance came over me and all of a sudden I was transported back to Jean Claude, the classic French bistro in Chicago where I worked post-college and where I first tasted Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. It was a specialty of the house (along with Duck á l’Orange carved tableside – ooh la la!) and ordered frequently, so that aroma often filled the dining room. That restaurant was significant to me in other ways too. I know now that it was there that my great passion for food, wine and gathering people around the table to share both, was born. Some thirty years later, it all comes rushing back to me when that particular smell of deliciousness fills my kitchen. I’m always amazed by that phenomenon.
But wait. We were going to talk about Valentine’s Day!
I’m not really inclined toward Hallmark cards – cooking delicious food for my family is always my favorite way to demonstrate my love. No surprise there, I guess.
If you’re looking for something kind of special, but not too time consuming, for a weeknight fete, this just might be your dish. You can stop at the market on your way home from work to pick up what you need and once you get going it takes just about an hour, start to finish. There’s even a hands-off period of 30 minutes that is the perfect time to set the table and whip up some pasta and a vegetable to go alongside. I like it with a wide noodle pasta like Pappardelle and some sauteed spinach (more garlic!)
The real time saver here though is buying ready peeled whole cloves of garlic. Since you need 40 cloves, preferably intact, you don’t really want to go through the tedious step of hand peeling each of them. Most grocery stores now carry bags of these in the produce section. I used to think they were probably inferior and was kind of ashamed of the rare occasion when I would break down and use them. But then I read in the cookbook of a famous chef that she uses them in any application where the garlic is cooked! Vindication! I don’t use them all the time, but here they’re a game changer.
Beyond Valentine’s Day, this is also a lovely fall or winter dinner party dish. It can be made a day ahead and gently reheated. I suggest serving this with a lovely bottle of Pinot noir and some very mellow jazz.
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
- 40 cloves of garlic
- 8 - 10 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons whiskey, divided see headnote
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Season generously all over with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the chicken on both sides. When the thighs are golden brown, remove them to a plate and continue with the rest. This should take about 5 minutes per side.Remove the last of the chicken to the plate and put all of the garlic in the pot. Lower the heat and saute for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cloves are golden brown on both sides. Be careful not to let them burn. The add 2 tablespoons of the whiskey and all of the wine, turn up the heat and bring to a boil, and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Return all of the chicken to the pot along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Sprinkle in the thyme leaves. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until all of the chicken is done.Remove the chicken to a platter and cover to keep warm. Scoop out about 1/2 a cup of the sauce from the pot and put it in a small bowl. Add the flour and whisk together. Then put this mixture back in the pot with the rest of the sauce and whisk to incorporate. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the remaining whiskey and the cream and bring to a strong simmer. Let simmer for about 3 minutes, to bring it all together and thicken a bit. Season generously with salt and pepper, then pour the sauce and the garlic over the chicken and serve hot.