Forty cloves of garlic in one recipe sounds highly improbable, a foolhardy experiment in the manner of chili pepper eating contests and bacon ice cream. But I have lived to tell the tale, friends, and I can tell you that it is fabulous. In the classic Provençal dish, popularized in America by Richard Olney and James Beard and others, a whole chicken is baked with lots of olive oil, herbs, a bouquet garni and four, count them, four whole heads of unpeeled garlic, which sweeten and mellow into spreadable, sticky, buttery goodness. The chicken came out wonderfully juicy and well-seasoned, but the best-of-the-best part of our meal were those little packets of roasted garlic.
We had a few glorious days of spring this week, all of them drifting into gentle evenings where it was warm enough to light candles outside and bring a whole pot of garlic chicken to the middle of the table, everyone tucking in from there. The four of us tore through a whole baguette (and could have probably eaten another), dunking it into the pan juices and olive oil and spreading slices with roasted garlic squished out of their papery shells. It was an easy-going, convivial supper shared with friends, a dish especially suited for a barefoot evening with many smudged glasses of rosé, good gossip and lots of napkins.
Richard Olney’s recipe calls for a simple dough ring sandwiched between the lip of the pot and the lid to create a seal, but I opted for Beard’s slightly less charming method of using aluminum foil, and followed his instructions for temperature. Have your butcher cut up one whole chicken or substitute 8 bone-in pieces, and to shave off a few minutes of prep (that said, there isn’t much to it) you might substitute a package of peeled garlic. And I haven’t tried it yet, but next time I might brown the chicken in a portion of the olive oil and give it some color before baking, an adaptation I’ve seen modern cooks use.
So to warm nights and cozy suppers shared in backyards, to al fresco drinks with friends, to wonderful, heaven-sent springtime: Salut!
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
adapted from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food, 1974
- one 3 lb chicken, cut up; reserve the backbone for stock or discard
- 4 heads of plump garlic (about 6 oz)
- 1 tsp each dried thyme, tarragon and oregano
- 2/3 C olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- aromatics for a bouquet garni: leek tops, bay leaf, celery stalk, several sprigs of fresh thyme and flat-leaf parsley
- kitchen twine
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and allow to come to cool room temperature. Meanwhile, break up the garlic heads into cloves, discarding any loose, papery hulls but leaving the cloves unpeeled. Make a bouquet with the aromatics and tie together with a small length of kitchen twine.
In a heavy dutch oven or deep casserole dish with a lid, coat the chicken and garlic cloves with the olive oil and dried herbs. Nestle the bouquet garni in the center of the pot and arrange the chicken and garlic around it. Cover the pot with aluminum foil to make a seal and replace the lid; bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. Serve with crusty country bread or a baguette for dipping into the olive oil and pan juices and spreading with roasted garlic.