Whole garlic cloves key to subtle flavor

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Not too long ago, few Americans ate garlic.

It had too strong a taste; it was too sharp. It made your breath smell bad.

If consumed at all, garlic would only be eaten in Italian food, and only in small amounts.

That was how we thought at least through the 1960s. But now, we love the stuff. On average, Americans now eat more than two pounds of garlic each year, according to the Garlic Seed Foundation.

So I thought I would make a dish that make the most out of garlic. I wanted the garlic flavor to be at the front and center, but I did not want it to be too strong, too pungent.

Garlic know-how: There are a couple of ways to achieve this.

The first is to leave the cloves whole. Most people mince or chop their garlic, exposing more surface area. That makes the flavor more acute and concentrated. In Italy, where they know something about garlic, the cloves are left whole so that the flavor is noticeable but not overpowering.

The other trick is to cook it at a relatively low temperature for a relatively long time. That way, the flavors get a chance to ripen until the garlic is almost sweet.

If you are still wary of using a lot of garlic in a dish, then you have probably forgotten about chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. It was all the rage in the 1970s and ’80s.

It is indeed chicken cooked with 40 actual cloves of garlic, and it is sublime. Far from being acrid, as you would expect, the chicken is suffused with a warm, garlicky glow. But not too garlicky. The garlic does not even compete with the chicken; it only serves to

enhance it.

If you have never had chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, I cannot recommend it enough. It may become your favorite way of preparing chicken.

And if the thought of 40 cloves scares you, then feel free to use 38 cloves. Just tell everyone it was 40.

Chicken With 40 Cloves of Garlic

Yield: 4 servings

40 cloves garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

8 (5-to-7-ounce) bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts halved crosswise

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup dry sherry

3/4 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in

1 tablespoon water

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

Note: To peel many cloves of garlic at once, break garlic heads into cloves and place in a zipper-lock bag. Squeeze out air, seal bag and gently pound garlic with a rolling pin.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat to

450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss garlic in a microwavable bowl with

1 teaspoon oil and sugar. Microwave garlic until slightly softened with light brown spotting, about 4 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook chicken skin-side down until browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to plate, skin-side up. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from skillet. Reduce heat to medium low, add garlic, and cook until evenly browned, about 1 minute.

Off heat, add sherry to skillet. Return skillet to medium heat and bring sherry to simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Cook until sherry coats garlic and pan is nearly dry, about 4 minutes. Stir in broth, cream, the cornstarch mixture, thyme sprigs and bay leaf, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Return chicken skin-side up to skillet along with any accumulated juices. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until chicken registers 175 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes (15 to 20 minutes if cooking breasts).

Using pot holder, remove skillet from oven. Transfer chicken and half of garlic to serving platter. Discard thyme and bay leaf. Using potato masher, mash remaining garlic into sauce and season with salt and pepper. Pour half of sauce around chicken. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately.

Per serving: 580 calories; 40 g fat; 14 g saturated fat; 207 mg cholesterol; 35 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 820 mg sodium; 83 mg calcium

— Recipe from “The Chicken Bible” by America’s Test Kitchen