Written by contributor Jan of Family Bites.
Sixteen years ago this week I moved to the South of France. I was 21 years old, and with the exception of a week-long vacation to Florida during the early Spring of Grade 13, my travel had been limited to a few touristy destinations across Canada.
I arrived in Nice on a crisp January morning. As I walked through the small airport looking for the man with the Chihuahua tucked into his front pocket – the only identifying trait I had for the person who was going to employ me for the next year – I had a mini panic attack as I waited in the sun soaked baggage claim.
It turns out the dashing man arrived two minutes after I did, and I spent a large part of the next year taking care of his two young sons, befriending his lovely in-laws who didn’t speak a word of English – but taught me to drive stick shift none-the-less – going to parties with some of the world’s biggest celebrities (I have a picture of Michael Jackson!), and learning how to entertain with efficiency and simplicity from the man’s wife, a cool-tempered lady who would play tennis with members of the royal family, and then come home to cook dinner for her husband and eight of his business associates.
Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, the family I was living with made their home in Monte Carlo, Monaco, a small principality best known for glitzy casinos and Grace Kelly. But to me, it was the place I learned the most about shopping from a market, making soup from scratch, and in-home entertaining.
There were so many things I learned while living abroad, and I’m sure I could fill the pages of a book with the culinary stories and secrets I have from my time there, but the one thing that sticks in my memory the most is this: when the lady of the house entertained she never made her main course the same day she planned on serving it.
To this day, that little nugget of wisdom has proven to be incredibly valuable time and time again. It’s how I like to approach a meal I plan on serving to others, especially during the cold weather months when braises and bakes are ideal make-ahead meals designed for feeding a crowd.
When I approach an entertaining menu I usually come up with the main course first, and build on smaller additions from there. In the winter I choose something that I can make a day or two in advance in my Dutch oven, and on the day I’m expecting my guests I warm the dish slowly over low heat, fix a salad, cook a starch, if needed, and prepare a dessert. Not only is this easier, but I’ll let you in on another secret: the food almost always tastes better the next day when the flavors have really had the chance to meld together.
One of my favorite recipes to make this way is chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. I know it seems like an obscene amount of flavor to add to a dish, but I promise you that when it’s slowly cooked the pungent aroma softens and sweetens, and adds a real depth to the poultry in the simplest of ways.
This popular French fare can be made up to two days in advance, and tastes great when served over a bed of root vegetables purées, polenta, buttered egg noodles or crispy croutons. Slices of baguette are also nice for mopping up the extra sauce.
|Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic||
- 40 cloves of garlic, about 3 whole heads
- 3 – 3 ½ lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
- 1 ½ cups dry white wine
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried tarragon
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Optional: fresh chopped parsley for garnish
- Separate the cloves of garlic. This can be done up to 5 days in advance and stored in a lidded container in the fridge.
- Thoroughly dry the chicken pieces with paper towels. Season both sides liberally with salt and pepper.
- Heat the butter and oil in a Dutch oven set over medium heat. Sauté the chicken skin-side down until nicely browned, about 5 minutes per side. Do this in batches if necessary. Turn the chicken over with tongs and when a batch is done transfer the chicken pieces to a plate. Continue to cook the remainder of the chicken the same way.
- Transfer the last of the chicken pieces to the plate, lower the heat and add the garlic to the pot, cooking it for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until it’s evenly browned.
- Add the wine to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil, scraping the browned bits from the bottom. Return the chicken to the pot with the juices that have collected on the plate, sprinkle the tarragon over the top, and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and the juices run clear.
- Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Whisk together ½ cup of the sauce from the pot and the flour to make a thick paste. Return the mixture to the pot and stir it back into the sauce. Add the cream and boil for 1-3 minutes or until thick. Check the seasonings and adjust if needed. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve hot.
Inevitably the chicken skin softens when it cooks in the wine. If you prefer your finished pieces to be crispy, remove the reheated chicken pieces from the pot and place them on a baking sheet. Broil for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Transfer to a platter and pour the warm sauce over the top, or serve it on the side.
Tell me, do you have any secrets for easy entertaining?