Gennaro’s perfect chicken
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Jamie’s friend and mentor Gennaro Contaldo has made us a How To video of his favourite chicken dish. He cooks up this beautiful Italian-influenced Chicken with Chilli, Rosemary and Garlic during what can only be described as a monsoon on a recent trip to the Amalfi Coast. Overlooking his beautiful and unspoilt hometown of Minori, Gennaro creates this sticky, spicy beauty – to feed four.
He first takes some lovely free-range chicken drumsticks and thighs and cuts them down into manageable chunks – keeping the meat on the bone before seasoning well.
He fries them in a big sauté pan with a good glug of olive oil and when they turn golden brown and crisping up he adds garlic, chilli and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary.
He then lets it cook on a low flame for 35 minutes.
After that he adds a glass-and-a half of white wine and when the alcohol is burned off he places the cooked chicken onto grilled slices of Bruschetta.
Fantastico – see Gennaro cook some more of his incredible tasty dishes on our video pages.
Joyce Goldstein’s separates her chicken, because a whole bird presents ‘portioning problems’. Thumbnails by Felicity.
Joyce Goldstein writes in her 1999 book The Mediterranean Kitchen that, “traditionally, this dish is made with a whole roast chicken, baked in a sealed casserole with the garlic cloves and a bouquet garni”. However, Beard published a later recipe for a fricassee, and most more recent versions follow his example, with Goldstein explaining that a whole bird would present “portioning problems” in her restaurant (San Francisco’s legendary Square One).
Chicken pieces do cook more quickly than whole birds, and also do so more evenly, as Cook’s Illustrated’s New Best Recipe Book points out, plus choosing them also means you can choose your own favourite cut. They’re thus perhaps the more sensible choice, but it’s said Beard loved the recipe for its theatricality, often demonstrating it on television for that reason, and, to me, that points towards the whole birds used by Caroline Craig in Provence: The Cookbook and Catherine Phipps’ book Chicken. (If you’re feeding a crowd, or fussy eaters, by all means use chicken joints instead, but you will, in my opinion, miss out on some of the pleasure.)
Like Phipps, I’m going to pot roast the chicken to infuse it with garlicky flavour, and to stop the garlic itself from drying out in the heat of the oven, so a brief preliminary sizzle in a hot pan will help offset its inevitable pallor, making it worth the faff of wrestling with a whole bird over a hot stove. Cooks Illustrated brines its chicken pieces briefly before roasting, claiming that it renders the meat “firm, juicy and well seasoned”, but as long as you don’t overcook the bird, it shouldn’t require it.
(Note that the 1980s American classic The Silver Palate Cookbook makes this recipe with duck. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say whether it’s an improvement.)
- 1 (4 pound) whole chicken
- 1 cup margarine, softened
- 1 tablespoon garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 pinch dried rosemary
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Rinse and pat chicken thoroughly dry with paper towels. Mix margarine, garlic salt, black pepper, thyme, parsley, and rosemary in a bowl and rub the outside of the chicken thoroughly with the margarine mixture. Place any remaining margarine mixture into the cavity of the chicken. Place chicken into a glass baking dish.
Bake chicken in the preheated oven until browned and the juices run clear, about 2 hours. An instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh, not touching bone, should read at least 160 degrees F (70 degrees C).
‘Peasant food of the most warming and comforting kind’: Russell Norman’s pasta e fagioli.
Tomatoes are very much optional – they play no part at all in Contaldo’s recipe – but, simmered down until they become one with the beans, they do add a pleasant dose of umami. Indeed, if you’re really keen on them, try Norman’s version, which stirs in a rich, long-simmered tomato sauce to create a creamily robust tomato and bean soup that is surely the very definition of a cockle-warmer, whatever that is in Italian.
Hazan loosens her soup with beef stock and Contaldo with vegetable, but I’m going to stick with the bean cooking liquid, so the predominant flavour is that, rather than meat or aromatics. If you would like to use stock, a neutral chicken would be my preference for omnivores.
Make it as thick or as thin as you like: according to Contaldo’s sister Adriana, “the real pasta e fagioli should have a thicker consistency” but I’d be very surprised if there weren’t millions of Italians prepared to argue the exact opposite.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion, celery and carrots for 4–5 minutes, or until softened. Add the chicken pieces and continue to cook for 2–3 minutes or until the have browned a little.
Pour in the wine and continue to cook until the volume of the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the tomato purée and the stock. Add the herbs, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Meanwhile, cook the polenta according to packet instructions. Add the butter and parmesan and stir until well combined.
To serve, spoon the polenta onto serving plates and top with the chicken.
Chicken cacciatore refers to a stew often made by hunters, who would stew whatever they had caught that day. As such, you can easily switch the chicken for other poultry or even rabbit.
Perfect Roast Chicken
Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the chicken in a large roasting pan. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of the lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Scatter the onion slices around the chicken.
Roast the chicken for 1-1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove to a platter and cover with aluminum foil while you prepare the gravy.
Remove all the fat from the bottom of the pan, reserving 2 tablespoons in a small cup. Add the chicken stock to the pan and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, until reduced, scraping the bottom of the pan. Combine the 2 tablespoons of chicken fat with the flour and add to the pan. Boil for a few minutes to cook the flour. Strain the gravy into a small saucepan and season it to taste. Keep it warm over a very low flame while you carve the chicken.
Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve immediately with the warm gravy.
Copyright 1999, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, All Rights Reserved
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Tools & Ingredients
- Meat mallet: The secret to perfectly cooked chicken breasts is to pound them to an even thickness before cooking. You can use a rolling pin, or even an empty wine bottle to do this, but a meat mallet will work best.
- Instant-read thermometer: Using an instant-read thermometer takes all the guesswork out of cooking meat so you can pull your chicken from the stove at exactly the right moment. You can cook chicken without one, but if you cook meat regularly, go buy a thermometer. It will change your life!
- Cling wrap or gallon plastic bag: Pounding chicken to an even thickness can be messy work, so you want to cover the chicken with either plastic wrap or enclose it in a plastic bag (with a small bit left open at the top for air to escape) before starting.
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts: Chicken breast sizes vary wildly, so don’t be alarmed if your chicken seems to be taking longer to cook than expected. You’re probably just working with a larger piece of meat.
- Spices: You’ll be surprised at how good this chicken is flavored with just salt and pepper, but you can get creative with the spices to add extra flavor. Italian seasoning and taco seasoning both work well.
How to Grill Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breasts
1. Remove the loose pieces of meat called a tender from the chicken breasts.
If your butcher has not already done so, remove the loose piece of meat—called a tender—that runs lengthwise on the underside of the breast. (You can recognize it by a prominent white tendon that runs through it.) If left on the breast, the tenders give it an uneven thickness, making it more difficult to grill properly.
Simply grill the tenders separately: They’re small size ensures they will cook quickly, needing only 1 to 3 minutes per side, depending on their thickness and the heat of your grill.
2. Brine the breasts.
Brine the breasts—i.e., soak them in heavily salted water—for at least an hour (and up to 3) before grilling for the juiciest meat. Combine 4 tablespoons of coarse kosher salt with 4 cups of cool water in a deep bowl or pot and stir until the salt crystals dissolve. (Double the recipe if you have more than 6 chicken breasts to brine.) Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Alternatively, marinate the breasts in your favorite marinade. (Note: Do not combine the two techniques—brining and marinating—or the chicken may become too salty.) Drain the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Preheat the grill.
Preheat the grill to medium-high, about 400 degrees.
4. Use hardwood chunks or make a smoking pouch for extra smoke flavor.
When ready to cook, brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well. For extra smoke flavor, toss a a couple of hardwood chunks or a handful of soaked, drained wood chips on the coals before grilling.
If using a gas grill, make a smoking pouch by enclosing the soaked wood chips in a pillow of heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke holes in it with the tip of a skewer or meat thermometer to allow the smoke to circulate. Lay the pouch directly on the grill grate.
Alternatively, position one or two chunks of wood directly over one of the burners.
5. Arrange the chicken breasts on the grill.
Arrange the breasts , top sides down, on a diagonal to the grill grate, all facing the same direction. (This attention to detail will make you look more professional.) Grill them for 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, rotate the breasts 45 degrees and grill them for 2 minutes more to create an attractive crosshatch of grill marks.
6. Turn the chicken breasts and grill the other side.
Turn the breasts with tongs and grill the other side, again rotating each breast 45 degrees after 2 minutes. The total cooking time for a skinless, boneless chicken breast will be 4 to 6 minutes per side.
7. Baste the chicken breasts.
Generously baste the breasts, if desired, with melted butter, oil, or marinade (fresh marinade—not the marinade the breasts soaked in). Baste the cooked side only to avoid cross-contamination. If using a glaze or barbecue sauce, apply it the last 2 minutes of grilling glazes usually contain sugar and can burn easily, so watch carefully.
In Part 2, we’ll share the many ways you can prepare chicken breasts, which are popular in all the world’s grilling cultures. In the meantime, here’s a simple but flavor-packed recipe—Bourbon-Brined Chicken—to get you started grilling the best skinless, boneless chicken breasts of your life.
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