It is amazing how just a few ingredients combine and concentrate to create such heightened flavors. Don't be afraid of the amount of garlic this recipe calls for as the garlic really mellows out, becoming almost sweet, during the cooking process. Although the recipe states that the chicken is "bland" without the sauce, I found the chicken to be very chicken-y, in a good way. I briefly considered omitting the Cognac as it required buying an overpriced tiny bottle just for the recipe but I am glad that I ended up splurging because it adds a great dimension to the dish. I also recommend using fresh thyme, as the flavor was also very evident in the final product. Finally, make sure to season the chicken thoroughly and be very patient with the initial browning as that is when most of the flavor is developed (as in most if not all braising dishes). I served this dish with roasted baby potatoes, flavored with some of the remaining fresh thyme and the Christmas truffle salt, and roasted broccoli, which deserves and will soon get its own post.
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
3 whole heads garlic, about 40 cloves
2 (3 1/2-pound) chickens, cut into eighths (I used just one chicken)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
3 tablespoons Cognac, divided
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I used light cream)
1. Separate the cloves of garlic and drop them into a pot of boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain the garlic and peel. Set aside. (I cheated and used pre-peeled cloves of garlic I got from Trader Joe's, which did not hurt the flavor of the dish at all and saved me a ton of time and frustration.)
2. Dry the chicken with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the butter and oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat (If you are making just one chicken like I did, use half the amount of butter and oil. The chicken will give off plenty of its own fat). In batches, saute the chicken in the fat, skin side down first, until nicely browned, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Turn with tongs or a spatula; you don't want to pierce the skin with a fork. If the fat is burning, turn the heat down to medium. When a batch is done, transfer it to a plate and continue to saute all the chicken in batches. Remove the last chicken to the plate.
3. Add all of the garlic to the pot. Lower the heat and saute for 5 to 10 minutes, turning often, until evenly browned. Add 2 tablespoons of the Cognac and the wine, return to a boil, and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pot with the juices and sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Cover and simmer over the lowest heat for about 30 minutes, until all the chicken is done.
4. Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sauce and the flour and then whisk it back into the sauce in the pot. Raise the heat, add the remaining tablespoon of Cognac and the cream, and boil for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste; it should be very flavorful because chicken tends to be bland. Pour the sauce and the garlic over the chicken and serve hot.
Makes 4-6 servings.