Chicken and Garlic
I’ve not really shared this with you before, but I do a fair bit of research before writing each blog post. I think about a particular region or food I want to focus on, then look for recipes that represent that. When I find a recipe, I look for other versions of it – I primarily want to focus on traditional foods. I also don’t want to just repost someone else’s hard work. So it was with today’s chicken and garlic.
Usually, I find many sources for a recipe, and take in a variety of approaches to a dish. Not surprisingly, each recipe has some similarities and some differences. But typically, there is a ‘solid core’ of a recipe that strongly represents the culinary culture. I try one or two out, and learn what I like and don’t like. There are decisions to I have to make about what to include and exclude. In the end, though, I usually find a clear path to a recipe. I aim for one that both represents the specific cuisine and is attainable for most home cooks.
Today’s recipe for chicken and garlic stands out for being different in this regard. The best I can tell, I’ve looked at more versions of this recipe than any other I’ve done here. I lost count somewhere after thirty. There were recipes from my Spain-centric cookbooks (I have more than a few). I read recipes online, in English and Spanish from sources in the US, Spain, the UK, Australia, and Argentina. Of course I watched YouTube videos in both English and Spanish. I kept looking at more and more because I was at first puzzled by what I was seeing.
Can’t Be Wrong, No Fail Results
Almost every recipe or video in some way alluded to the same fact. They all said that chicken and garlic is one of the most popular comfort foods in Spain. They say something like “everyone has a recipe for this” or “everyone loves this dish”. But surprisingly they had little else in common. They all shared a general theme that it was chicken. In all the recipes, the chicken cooks in a sauce. And yes, that sauce had garlic flavors. There was little else that was common or agreed upon.
Many recipes used white wine, but more than a few used red. One used sherry, and one used no wine at all. Some recipes called for boneless breasts, some for whole chickens cut up. I found some that called for cutting chicken legs into bite sized pieces. Some called for skin on vs skin off. Some called for deep frying the chicken first, and others for pan frying. Several included no frying at all. Several included vegetables to make it more like a stew. Some called for a thickened sauce, others for a thinner one.
I guess what I’m getting at is that there is no absolute right or wrong way to make this meal. When I found this quote from a food blogger in Spain, it relaxed me. I began to get more comfortable with the idea there was no absolute way. “Every family, every grandmother, every mother makes this chicken in a different way”
With that in mind, I have pulled together my version. I believe it respects the original ideas, but also is approachable for most home cooks. It uses the parts that I liked and swapped others I didn’t. I didn’t simply take the ‘easiest’ route with this recipe, but I tried to avoid the difficult.
I based most of the decisions that I made around my personal preferences. So I opted for using white wine – I think it better complements chicken in cooking than red wine. I opted for boneless, skinless chicken thighs – they are available at most grocery stores. They are reasonably priced, and closer (I thought) to the original spirit of the dish. I opted for a thicker sauce which is more like a gravy than a soup because that’s what I like. Most importantly, I opted for a technique that to manage the garlic. It provides a pleasing roasted garlic flavor without being very garlic forward.
So lets jump into the dish and how I prepared it. The key to this recipe is how the spices are cooked and included in the overall recipe. The approach used allows their flavors to infuse the meal without taking it over. The techniques for managing the flavor of the garlic and the other spices are easy. But they create a sophisticated flavor at the same time.
For example, I saw several recipes that called for bay leaves and whole peppercorns. In these recipes, both spices were first fried in the cooking oil. This deepens their taste and infuses their flavors at the very beginning of the dish. This is a technique I also run into frequently when cooking Indian foods. Yes — I cook more than Mediterranean. I use a recipe for chicken saag that does the very same frying technique with bay leaves and peppercorns. (Not this one, but a very similar one from a book I got years ago)
Taming the Garlic
I suppose the first reaction many have when seeing ‘garlic’ in the title is a fear that the dish will be best for warding off vampires (and perhaps others too!). It is very possible that there are some versions of this dish that would achieve that easily. In my research I saw versions that used one and two HEADS of garlic. I love garlic, but I just couldn’t bring myself to include that much. It would have been too way over the top.
In the version here, there is very definitely a presece of garlic in the sauce. But it is tamed and gives more of an essence of roasted garlic which is very appealing. There is no strong, bitter aftertaste you can get from ’too much’ garlic. And I’m pretty certain that you won’t scare vampires away either.
This is achieved by cooking the garlic in two steps. Yes — the amount of garlic looks like more than any dish should reasonably have. But trust me it isn’t too much at all using these tricks. First, you pan fry the unpeeled cloves while cooking the chicken. This, in effect, creates a roasted garlic clove. When you turn your chicken, turn the cloves over so they cook evenly on both sides.
The next thing to do is to take them out of the pan and let them cool for a few minutes so that you can handle them. They should slide easily out of thier skins at that point. Pile them on the back of a cutting board, and gently mash the softened cloves with the bak of a fork. They won’t become a pile of mush, but will be a bit more firm. That is ok — you are just releasing the inner clove to create contact with the sauce.
Infusing the Sauce
After you have deglazed the pan with the white wine, it is time to put the garlic back into the pan. You will also be adding the chicken stock at this time, so really, you are creating the sauce right here. The sauce cooks for about five minutes. Then return the chicken to the sauce as well to finish cooking. All this time, that mashed garlic is in contact with the liquids of the sauce. They are picking up the flavor of that garlic in gentle and subtle ways.
When the sauce has thickened a bit and the chicken has cooked it is time finish the dish. Here is where I think is the most important step in keeping the flavors balanced. Go ahed and plate the chicken. But don’t just take the sauce from the pan and add it straight to your chicken. Take a quick moment for one final step. Pour the sauce through a strainer and into a measuring cup. The strainer captures the peppercorns, bay leaves, and chunks of garlic.
All the ends up on the plate is the essence of garlic that has cooked directly into your sauce. As a result, the sauce is ends up being a delightful sauce. To be honest, I was a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was exceptionally well balanced. Chicken and garlic became an instant hit here at mezze & tapas World Headquarters. And added bonus — there is no risk of anyone biting into a garlic clove.
Try It Yourself
So there it is – Chicken and Garlic – Spain’s Amazing No Fail Comfort Food. I’ve waded through many many versions of this recipe to save you the trouble! But what I’ve found is that there is loads of room to tweak and adjust this recipe to fit your liking. Further evidence that chicken is a popular meat in Mediterranean food. Similar, but different from this Moroccan chicken, lemon and olives. Remember the chicken and garlic — the choice I made were all driven by MY tastes. That may not work for you. Perhaps you want a thinner sauce? Skip adding the flour to the oil. Not garlicky for you? Add more. Don’t have chicken thighs but just chicken breasts? Go ahead and use them. The point is — it is really difficult to be wrong here. This is dish perfect for trying you hand at changing it.
Start with the recipe below and give it a try. Let me know in the comments if you’ve made any changes — or if your grandmother made it differently. I’d love to hear from you.
Chicken and Garlic
- 4 pieces boneless chicken thighs
- 2 – 3 TBS All Purpose Flour or Gluten Free Flour
- 6 – 8 cloves garlic gently crushed to break skin, but NOT peeled
- 3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 2/3 cup white wine
- 1 cup Chicken Stock or Broth
- kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 2 TBL fresh parsley, chopped.
- Season chicken thighs with kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper
- Dredge in flour and shake off excess and let sit while oil heats. Reserve excess flour
- Heat 2 TBS of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat in large skillet
- Take the cloves of garlic and be sure they are lightly crushed to break the skins, but not peeled.
- Place garlic cloves in the hot oil
- Add the chicken and cook about 4 minutes per side, until lightly crisp, and golden brown all over
- Remove chicken and set aside on a clean plate
- Remove the garlic cloves and set aside to briefly cool
- If oil is gone from pan, add another tablespoon to the pan.
- Add bay leaves and peppercorns and cook in hot oil for about a minute
- While bay leaves and peppercorns are cooking , remove garlic from skins and lightly mash with a fork.
- Add about 1 TBS of flour to pan — you can use flour left from dredging chicken earlier.
- Whisk into the oil until it forms a roux
- Add white wine and quickly scrape any bits of food from bottom of pan to deglaze the pan
- Add chicken stock and whisk until it is all combined with flour and wine.
- Add mashed garlic pieces and heat until it all comes to a gentle simmer.
- Add chicken pieces and any juices that accumulated on its plate and return to simmer.
- Reduce heat to maintain simmer, then cover and let cook for 10 minutes.
- Remove lid and check chicken for done – 165oF
- Remove chicken to a clean plate and cover to keep warm
- Using a mesh strainer, pour accumulated pan sauce through the strainer into a measuring cup. Discard bay leaves, peppercorns and crushed garlic.
- Plate chicken, spoon sauce over top and garnish with parsley.