Richard Olney was an American Painter who moved to France in 1951, and became enamored of French food while in Paris. He moved to a farmhouse in Provence, which he essential built and rebuilt by hand and wrote some of the seminal cookbooks on French country cooking. His French Menu Cookbook was his first big success, and he bought an expensive French stove with some of the proceeds. His books stress using local ingredients and discuss pairing each recipe with wines.
In one of the most fascinating intersection of chefs as cookbook authors, Luke Barr’s book Provence, 1970 describes a year when Julia Child, Simone (Simca) Beck, MFK Fisher, James Beard, cookbook editor Judith Jones and Richard Olney all visited together in Provence, cooking, sharing ideas and changing the course of food in America.
This recipe for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is Olney’s and is a jumping off place for all sorts of variations. Writing in the New York Times, Dorie Greenspan describes this dish as a “no-matter-what recipe” that young cooks can count on to always work. She also proposes some interesting variations, noting that you can add wine, more kinds of vegetables among other things.
The essence of Olney’s recipe is chicken, herbs, and four heads of garlic cloves, all cooked together in a casserole until only a gentle hint of garlic flavor remains. We have described the details of how garlic flavor develops and noted that you get very little of that flavor if you don’t cut into each clove. While Olney and other chefs may not have known the botany of garlic, chefs in general knew the properties of garlic and how to obtain them, by mincing the clove or, as this recipe does, simply using them cloves whole.
The recipe calls for a whole chicken or four drumsticks and thighs. Comments on Greenspan’s article suggest you remove the chicken skin, since it doesn’t become crisp in this recipe and would just hang around looking floppy.
In the accompanying photos, we made only half a recipe, with two chicken legs and used only 2 heads of garlic.
- 1 whole chicken, cut up, or 4 chicken legs cut into thighs and drumsticks, skin removed.
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 4 heads of garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled. Discard any loose hulls.
- Salt, pepper
- 1 tsp mixed dry herbs (thyme, oregano, savory)
- 1 large bouquet garni, large branch celery, parsley, bay leaf, leek grrens and lovage if available, tied with string.
- Flour and water for dough
- Cut up the chicken, remove the skin and place the pieces in a casserole.
- Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, and the herbs, chopped if fresh, and mix it all together with your hands.
- Place the bouquet garni in the center of the chicken pieces, and push the garlic cloves all around between the chicken pieces.
- Put about 2-3 cups of flour in a bowl and add water and a few drops of olive oil to make a dough.
- Roll out the dough large enough to cover and seal the casserole.
- Moisten the rim of the casserole and press the dough all around the rim.
- Cover the casserole and bake it at 350˚ F for 1-3/4 hours.
- Remove the lid.
- Some suggest serving the sealed casserole and breaking through the dough seal at the table. Actually, you almost lift it off whole. It isn’t really to be eaten.
Serve with crusty French bread, grilled or toasted if you prefer. Take a couple of garlic cloves with each serving and squeeze them with a fork to get the soft, cooked garlic out to spread on the bread. You will find it delicious, slightly sweet and not garlicky at all!