Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

February 9, 2010


Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

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.

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  • Reply Mark Taylor February 9, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    A Keith Floyd classic from the early 80s if we’re not mistaken?! Nice to see it revived

  • Reply The Graphic Foodie February 9, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Ah, another Valentine special!

    No really – Wow! I can only imagine the left overs. Oil, mellow garlic and slabs of bread…. drool.

  • Reply peter February 9, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    A friend served this chicken and every single clove of garlic was worth it!

  • Reply Nora February 9, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Goodness me, how scrumptious. Can’t wait to see what happened to the leftover oil!

  • Reply Lizzie February 9, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Ughhhh. That’s a Homer-esque noise emitted from my dribbling face.

    I have to admit when I made this for my parents a good 3 years ago when I’d just moved house and bankrupted myself in the process, I used white wine instead of all that oil (the stuff I was drinking was cheaper than the oil). The smell was intoxicating, and I imagine even more so with just oil.

    I am muchly excited by what you did with the leftover oil. Almost worth making the dish just for that…!

  • Reply Gareth February 10, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Yum. This has been on my list to eat for ages – I think Terroirs in Charing Cross have been serving it recently. Might have to try it on Sunday night.

  • Reply Maninas February 10, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Hello, just to let you know that I found that Korean tofu and clam stew that I was telling you about. Good people at Zen Kimchi pointed me in the right direction: the dish is called Sundubu Jjigae (pronounced SOON-doo-boo CHEE-geh). Sue of My Korean Kitchen has a recipe at I’ll be trying it out soon!

  • Reply Alex February 10, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I remember (well, don’t remember, I was probably about 4 at the time, but have heard) when Floyd cooked this sparking letters of complaint to the Beeb. My, how things have changed.

  • Reply Patrick February 10, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I’m read about this many times before. Your photo’s and writing have inspired me to cook this this weeked. I’ve seen your photo’s of what happens next too…oh my 🙂

  • Reply we are never full February 10, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    there is a rather annoying celebrity tv chef here in the states that prides herself on this dish. she’s actually made americans understand how much garlic mellows and sweetens when roasted/cooked. for that, i can’t begrudge her but, unfortunately, when i see this awesome dish i always think of her! it’s delicious though! yours looks great.

    kind of similar to when we did a french garlic soup – it called for many, many (MANY!) cloves of garlic. but it adds such a depth of flavor that can’t be described unless tasted – and it doesn’t make your breath stink!

  • Reply shayma February 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Helen, such a beauty this is. when will you share with us all the ‘leftover secrets’? Would love to know more. I agree with you, skin on is the best way to go and nothing like a pudgy rubbery skin- awful. crisp skin, corn-fed like the one you prepared, what a beauty, really.

  • Reply Helen February 10, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Mark – He was such a hero wasn’t he? In his day I mean. Bringing classics to the people.

    The Graphic Foodie – Oh yeah, this is one for date night alright. Spreading those cloves on bread has got to be one of the best ways to eat em.

    Peter – I agree! I’m even tempted to add more…just to see…

    Nora – Coming up this week.

    Lizzie – Agreed, it was almost worth making the dish for that leftover ………..

    Gareth – Ooh! Do let me know what it’s like if you have it there.

    Maninas – YOU ARE A STAR. I will try it this weekend! Thank you so much for getting back to me.

    Alex – Ha ha ha! Oh how times have changed indeed. Wow, people were so uptight about food back then. I probably would have been shocked myself.

    Patrick – It’s totally worth it I promise. So little effort too – just 15 minutes or less of prep and it comes out like that. Brilliant.

    We are Never Full – Oh go on – who is it?! Hear you on the garlic soup. I did the same with a curry once and it was divine. Might have to make that again actually.

    Shayma – Thank you! A lovely comment as always.

  • Reply Gourmet Chick February 11, 2010 at 4:34 am

    Keith Floyd did this and Simon Hopkinson if I am not wrong? I think it is on a few menus at the moment as well – Terroirs? It looks fantastic anyway.

  • Reply ginandcrumpets February 11, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    That looks fantastic, particularly its cheery yellow legs waving from the roasting tin. Sunday is looking like a roast chicken day.

  • Reply Costa @ Kara's "Original Greek" February 12, 2010 at 9:56 am

    This recipe looks stunning, and your photos really appealling! I can almost taste the chicken right now! as to the 40 cloves? bound to get rid of any flu bugs! and thats for sure! lovely site… Costa

  • Reply Thomas @ The Blog Wine Cellar February 13, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Those roasted garlic cloves look amazing. I love dark meat chicken more than anything. A good leg or wing, yep can’t beat it! Cheers~

  • Reply Kerri February 15, 2010 at 11:48 am

    I love this dish, I was apprehensive about it to begin with but the garlic becomes so delicious after all that cooking.

    We used the leftover cloves in a sort of potato gratin, was really good. So many ways to handle the leftovers!

  • Reply Kavey February 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I haven’t made chicken with 40 cloves of garlic for ages and the version I made used chicken pieces rather than the whole bird so must try it like this! 🙂

  • Reply Margot February 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    And I thought I use lots of garlic 🙂 Sounds delicious.
    Also love the new look of the blog.

  • Reply Stu_N March 8, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Cooked this at the weekend and it was spectacular. Now really looking forward to the chicken sandwich…

  • Reply Emily Martin March 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Your blog is brilliant! I envy your photography intensely and will be back frequently.
    You’re a cook after my own heart.

  • Reply Caramella Mou April 30, 2010 at 7:09 am

    Hi Helen,

    This recipe looks very close to one by Delia Smith, which I can thoroughly recommend.

    Thanks for the useful tip on how to rest the chicken after roasting, it makes sense, yet I hadn’t thought of that before.

  • Reply daisy June 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    So great to stumble over this classic…thank you for reworking with yummy pictures – am linking you now to N8eat and gathering the ingredients for tmorrows supper!

  • Reply gary September 5, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    This is a fantastic dish.

    Its first incarnation appeared (as far as I know) in Paula Peck’s “The Art of Good Cooking,” in 1961. It was only slightly different, and called “Chicken and Garlic Stew” — but it has the same magnificent aroma.

    (back in ’61, people freely added MSG, but the dish doesn’t need it at all)

  • Reply Chef JR September 6, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    I have had this recipe for about 40 years, but it goes under the name of ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES, I think I got it from “The Galloping Gourmet” back in the 70’s. But still a great recipe.

  • Reply Matt H January 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    DO NOT follow the link posted by Caramella Mou above to the Delia recipe or run/save anything from the resulting page. Goodness knows what would happen if you fell for this false security alert.

  • Reply Matt H January 8, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    ignore the last comment – seems that I was the one who had a virus!

  • Reply keenpetite August 27, 2012 at 3:09 am

    Early ’80’s was the first time I roasted this succulent dish (I admit the amount of garlic initially scared me, but as I remember that roasted garlic can be used as butter, I went for it, no regrets) followed instructions exactly
    everyone just devoured every single piece esp the roasted garlic.
    Plan to roast a cornish hen soon. Salivating just thinking of it !!
    Much thanks for reviving an old classic but delish recipe

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