Perhaps an arbitrary number of cloves, the 40 in this French dish are iconic; while the chicken braises, the generous cloves become appealingly soft and spreadable. But their flavor is often spiritless.
Another offense: The chicken is tender, but the breast meat dries out and tastes wan. We wanted to revisit this classic dish to make it faster and better, so it would boast well-browned, full-flavored chicken, sweet and nutty garlic, and a savory sauce.
Using chicken pieces rather than a whole bird ensured that the meat cooked evenly—and quickly. We roasted the garlic cloves first to caramelize them and develop their flavor and then added them to the braising liquid with the chicken.
Finishing the braised chicken under the broiler made the skin crispy. Some shallots and herbs added flavor to the sauce, and several roasted garlic cloves, smashed into a paste, thickened and flavored the sauce. If using a kosher chicken, skip the brining process. Avoid heads of garlic that have begun to sprout (the green shoots will make the sauce taste bitter).
Tie the rosemary and thyme sprigs together with kitchen twine so they will be easy to retrieve from the pan. Serve the dish with slices of crusty baguette; you can spread them with the roasted garlic cloves.
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Start to finish: 2 hours
3 large garlic heads, cloves separated and unpeeled
2 shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise
5 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
4 pounds bone-in chicken pieces
(2 split breasts cut in half crosswise, 2 drumsticks, and 2 thighs)
3/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces and chilled
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 F. Toss garlic and shallots with 2 teaspoons oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in pie plate; cover tightly with aluminum foil and roast until softened and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes, shaking pie plate once after 15 minutes to toss contents (foil can be left on during tossing). Uncover, stir, and continue to roast, uncovered, until garlic is browned and fully tender, about 10 minutes longer, stirring halfway through roasting. Remove pie plate from oven and increase oven temperature to 450 F.
Using kitchen twine, tie together thyme sprigs, rosemary sprig, and bay leaf; set aside.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch ovensafe skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken skin side down and cook until well browned, 5 to 8 minutes, reducing heat if pan begins to scorch. Using tongs, flip chicken and lightly brown second side, about 3 minutes; transfer to large plate. Pour off fat from skillet. Off heat, add vermouth, broth, and herb bundle to now-empty skillet, scraping up any browned bits. Place skillet over medium heat, add garlic mixture, then nestle chicken skin side up on top of and between garlic cloves.
Transfer skillet to oven and cook chicken until breasts register 160 F and drumsticks/thighs register 175 F, 10 to 12 minutes. If desired, heat broiler element and broil chicken to crisp skin, 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove skillet from oven (skillet handle will be hot) and transfer chicken to platter. Using slotted spoon, remove 10 to 12 garlic cloves and set aside. Transfer remaining garlic cloves and shallots to platter with chicken. Discard herb bundle. Place reserved garlic cloves in fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Using rubber spatula, push garlic cloves through strainer; discard skins. Add garlic paste to sauce in skillet and bring to simmer, whisking occasionally to incorporate garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Off heat, whisk in butter. Serve chicken, passing sauce separately.