There’s a new cookbook in my collection. The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden. A mammoth bible exploring the delicious history of Spanish cuisine. She depicts her recipes through detailed accounts of their role in Spanish history and culture. When I think of Spanish cuisine my first thought is tapas (small plates). Then I think of spicy chorizo, lots of garlic, manchego cheese, pimenton, and creamy flan. But as I’ve learned through Claudia’s travels, there is so much more to the foundation of Spanish cooking.
After spending a few weeks as my bedtime novel, I’ve brought The Food of Spain into the kitchen. Following my usual new cookbook modus operandi, I’ve earmarked all the dishes that I think my family will enjoy and have now begun the process of cooking my way through Spain. My first venture was pollo al ajillo, castile la mancha… otherwise known as Garlic Chicken. It sounds much more impressive in Spanish. Two whole heads of garlic (yes, two!) and lots of dry sherry made this dish rich and full of flavor. The garlic mellows and becomes sweet as it simmers in the sherry – when it finally reaches the plate the cloves melt in your mouth. Marvelous!
I’ve adjusted the original recipe a bit to reduce the amount of oil (and calories). When the chicken is cooked with the skin on it will release its own fat. I use only chicken thighs and breasts and remove the skin before serving. In addition, I’ve added Wondra flour right before it’s complete to thicken the sauce, making it coat the garlic cloves and chicken perfectly.
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4-6)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 4 bone-in chicken thighs
- 2 bone-in split chicken breasts (each cut in half, for 4 total pieces)
- 2 whole heads of garlic, peeled
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cup dry sherry
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 1-2 tsp Wondra flour *
Heat a large heavy dutch oven and add the oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown in batches on all sides. Remove from the pan. Drain about half the fat from the bottom of the pan, then turn the heat down and add the whole garlic cloves. Sauté on low heat until golden, being careful not to burn them. Keep the heat very low.
Add the chicken back to the pot along with the bay leaves, sherry and chicken stock. Raise the heat and simmer covered, turning the chicken periodically in the sauce until the chicken is almost cooked through, then remove the lid for the last bit of cooking time. Depending on the size of your breast pieces, they may be cooked through faster than the thighs. Check and remove them from the pan if done before the dark meat – you can return them to the pan when the thighs are done.
Once the chicken is done, push it (along with the garlic cloves) to the sides and sprinkle the Wondra into the sauce and whisk. Stir everything together and let simmer uncovered for 5-10 minutes more or until the sauce thickens, turning the chicken to coat. Serve immediately.
I served this with just a salad, but it would be really good with white rice and/or crusty bread to soak up the sauce and spread the garlic cloves on.
* Wondra is a quick-mixing flour made by Gold Medal. It’s great for thickening sauces or dusting meats before braising.