If a man cannot or will not cook, he is not a man. All REAL men – manly men, if you will – know how to cook, and by cook I don’t mean scurry around a studio kitchen yelling “BAM!” and cooking stuff most ordinary chefs don’t cook, like that wretched little Emeril does on his stupid Food Network show. Honestly…what kind of serious chef has his own studio band, complete with an African-American Doc Severinsen? I learned to cook because my mother – God rest her soul – was a superb cook. When I moved out and lived on my own, I had no choice but to teach myself the arcane ways of the kitchen. And now I happily pass what I have learned along to you, gentle reader.
I confess that I am a slavish devotee of Alton Brown, whose phenomenally popular Food Network series Good Eats achieves the seemingly impossible marriage of cooking and the science that underlies it – and does so with great wit and humor. I also confess that much of my cooking has been inspired by him and many of the recipes I present here – including today’s offering – are versions of those I’ve seen on his show. This dish makes use of a very large amount of garlic in the form of whole cloves and capitalizes on a chemical reaction that takes place when garlic is cooked.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family which includes shallots, onions, leeks and chives. The edible bulbs of these plants all have a common chemical characteristic: when the cell walls of the cloves or bulbs are ruptured by crushing or cutting, a sulfurous enzyme is released into the air. If you ever diced an onion, you will understand what I’m saying.
This enzyme is destroyed by the heat of cooking, which likewise causes other chemical reactions to take place creating new and wonderful flavors: sauteing a pungent diced raw onion in a little bit of oil or butter on low heat for half an hour will yield a mellow, sweet concoction that tastes very different than the raw item.
The same is true of garlic: raw garlic is extremely pungent and many people don’t like the sharp taste. But the moment you cook it, things change. If you saute chopped garlic for just a minute or two, much of the pungency disappears and a complex flavor develops. Cook it longer and a mild, nutty flavor begins to emerge. But if it browns, almost none of the garlic flavor remains.
Another way to cook garlic is to cut off the top of the bulb, brush it with olive oil and bake it in an oven (see picture on right). All of the pungency disappears and what remains is a butter-soft clove with heavenly flavor that can literally be squirted out of the paper casing.
Today’s recipe takes advantage of that chemical change.
1 broiler or fryer chicken, cut into parts for frying
30 to 40 large and medium cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
½ cup mild olive oil
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly grated black pepper
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
½ cup dry white wine
½ lb. capellini or angel hair pasta
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
If you are unsure how to cut up a whole chicken, go here to learn how. To peel the cloves, rub the clove between the palms of your hand, applying a little bit of pressure. This will dislodge the paper covering, which can then be removed with almost no effort. Using a paring knife, slice off the root end of the clove.
Place a large (12″) cast iron or oven-proof skillet on high heat until it’s rocket-hot. Dry the chicken pieces and then rub them with a generous coating of olive oil. Place them skin side down in the pan and cover with a splatter screen. Let them cook on high heat for 5 minutes, then turn the pieces over and let cook another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and turn the chicken pieces once more so they are all skin side down.
Toss the garlic cloves with the olive oil in a bowl and then pour over the chicken. Shake the pan a little to distribute the cloves.
Peel the thyme leaves off of the twigs by pinching the twig at the top and sliding your fingernails toward the bottom. Sprinkle the thyme over the chicken and then do the same with the salt and pepper. Cover the skillet with a lid or with heavy duty aluminum foil. Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours.
When chicken is done, remove pieces to a platter and keep warm. What remains in the skillet is pure ambrosia: buttery-soft cloves of garlic in a mild, garlic-infused oil delicately flavored with thyme. At this point you can do a couple of things:
a. Slice a loaf of french bread into half-inch thick slices on the diagonal. Using a pastry brush, coat each side of the bread slices with the oil and broil each side until nicely browned. Then smear one or two cloves on one side of each slice, sprinkle with a little parmigiano cheese and serve on the side
b. Boil half a pound of capellini or angel hair pasta. Just before the pasta is done, place the skillet on the burner on low heat. Mash the garlic cloves with a fork or potato masher. Add the wine and whisk for a minute or two
Drain the pasta and then add to the skillet. Toss well and then add the parsley. Toss again and then serve with the chicken.