I’ll admit from the off that I was slightly scared. Not by the quantity of garlic you understand – of course it mellows considerably with roasting – but by the oil; 250ml of olive oil settled into a deep golden pool in the bottom of my battle scarred roasting dish. I did consider slashing the amount but then as someone pointed out in the comments on my tofu post recently – I don’t do things by halves.
This dish comes from Provence, land of olive oil and garlic. A full forty cloves stew gently in the fruity elixir, and by the time the chicken is cooked, they are transformed to a soft savoury paste which can be squidged from its papery home and smeared onto the chicken, or good bread, or into mashed potato. A sprig or two of thyme and a couple of bay leaves add their own perfume and the whole heady medley gets right into that chicken – and your soft furnishings – beautifully. Febreeze eat your heart out.
If you are thinking of making this dish – and I cannot encourage you enough to do so – then this article and this one, are definitely worth a read. There are a few controversial points to consider, such as whether to peel or not to peel when it comes to the garlic (don’t) and whether or not one should brown the chicken before roasting. I recommend that you do. The whole thing is baked under foil you see and I ended up having to try and crisp at the last minute once I got around to thinking about what was (or was not) going to happen. Flabby chicken skin does not float my boat.
Once you’ve browned then, the bird goes into the roaster (or a suitable casserole like a Le Creuset) and is surrounded by the other ingredients. I also shoved some plant matter into the cavity. A bit of lemon would have been nice. The bird is seasoned generously, covered with foil and baked for 45-50 minutes; the result is roast chicken heaven. I’ve never eaten a bird like it, and I’ve roasted a fair few chickens in my time.
When it comes to resting, I recommend positioning her with her legs (mine spectacularly yellow, from corn feeding) sticking up in the air – a trick I learned from Adam Byatt at Trinity. This means that all the juices seep down towards the breast, leaving you with moist, succulent meat. To serve, most recommend mashed potato but I just didn’t fancy it in the face of all that richness and made a salad of bitter curly endive dressed liberally with a lemony dressing. Juices were mopped with hunks of good bread.
I’m really happy that I went the whole hog with this dish, because the leftover oil has been a source of much excitement over the past couple of days. I can’t wait to tell you what I did with the leftovers. The carcass went into the stock pot too so that one decent chicken has been the base for three meals each for two people. It’s the gift that just keeps on giving.
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
One well treated, free-range chicken
250ml olive oil (I didn’t go too fruity because I had plans for the remains. All will soon be revealed)
40 cloves of garlic or thereabouts (that’s four whole bulbs), papery bits removed but not peeled
A sprig of thyme (plus a bit extra for the cavity)
A sprig of rosemary (I didn’t use this, but it can’t be a bad thing)
2 bay leaves
A bit of lemon would be nice come to think of it
Salt and pepper and lots of it
Preheat the oven to 180C
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. Drizzle a little oil over the chicken and rub it in. You can now brown the chicken on the stove top, which is what I wish I’d done. You can use your casserole or roasting dish for this if it’s big enough, and then just transfer it into the oven.
Surround it with the garlic cloves, herbs and bay, then stick the other herbs (and maybe lemon) inside the cavity. Pour the oil around. Season the chicken very generously, then cover with foil and seal tightly. Roast it for 45-90 minutes depending on the size of your chicken. Baste it 2-3 times during cooking. 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 make a salad, cut some bread, pour a glass of wine etc. Serve with a little of the oil drizzled over the top, a bitter green salad and some good bread or potatoes.