Catalan Chicken recipe – healthy & easy
My wife, Lisa, registered sincere surprise when Heath proudly informed us that dinner would be guinea fowl in the Catalan style. Our 10-year-old daughter had worked hard on the rich, aromatic sauce, and now she leaned in deep over the kitchen counter, rocking on her folded forearms. She beamed while I explained to Lisa that I’d figured out how to get our daughter to eat sauce.
“All you have to do,” I concluded, “is get her to make it for you.”
“No, Dad,” Heath groaned theatrically. “I just liked the gypsy story.”
Earlier that morning over tea and toast, Heath had asked about gypsies—or, more properly, the Romani. She’d read about them the night before. (God knows where.)
Funny you should ask, Heath! It just so happens that some years ago, on a trip to Roussillon—the southwestern reaches of France—I’d visited the sprawling Roma district in Perpignan. “It’s like the gypsy capital of Europe,” I’d explained, and prattled on about what I’d observed, then went on (somewhat randomly) to describe how, once upon a time, Catalonia (just over the French-Spanish border) had been the crossroads of the world—where Roman met Gaul met Visigoth met Moor—and was therefore great fun at mealtimes. This bait-and-switch strategem (Like the Roma? Let’s talk about dinner!) will be immediately familiar to any parent who, though he or she has command of only the basest of facts, soldiers on lamely, aspiring to do no harm.
“Can we go out for Catalonian food tonight, Dad?” Heath had asked, egging me on.
“If only we could.” According to Yelp!, the closest tapas bar is 20 miles from our new home on the beach, and there was no guarantee it was Catalonian and not, say, Madrilenian.
Grudgingly, Heath agreed that I would be allowed to cook Catalan food at home that night.
So, out came Culinaria France, a luscious, large-format book more suited to the coffee table than the kitchen counter (and just liberated from the increasingly dusty stack of boxes we dragged with us across the country from Brooklyn last Christmas). We consulted it all the same.
Pintade à la catalane leapt off the page. “What’s a guinea hen?” 9-year-old Bevan Jake asked, then barked, “You don’t know either, Heath!” even before his big sister had finished rolling her eyes.
“We’ll make do with chicken,” I commanded.
As they will do when you’re cooking from a coffee table book, the instructions got wobbly right off the bat. We were directed to wrap a whole chicken in bacon and sear it in a cast-iron Dutch oven until the bird and the bacon were “brown all over.”
Swept up in a nostalgia for Old World anything, I attempted to follow this absurd directive. Even without eight bacon streamers flying this way and that, it’s damn near impossible with a guinea hen—and it’s just about dangerous with a considerably larger chicken. “This is insane, Heath,” I said. “What they’re asking is impossible. We’re breaking this bird down right now.”
“Okay,” Heath peeped, shrinking from the counter while I quartered the bird.
“Who does that?” I huffed, wondering secretly if it was indeed possible.
I was so rattled by the possibility that there might be a benefit to searing off a whole bird that, before committing any further to the project, I stopped to consult the translated recipes from a handful of French cookery websites. The brief survey confirmed my belief that there are as many ways to prepare this dish as there are printed recipes. Some call for carrots, others tomato paste; some favor chicken over veal stock; fines herbes are not mandatory. What is common to all, however, are lemons and a seemingly diabolical quantity of garlic, both blanched before being incorporated into the earthy sauce.
I set Heath to peeling 30 cloves of garlic.
In keeping with our French theme, Bevan Jake absented himself from the mayhem in the kitchen, preferring to sulk over “Tintin: Cigars of The Pharaoh.” Heath observed that 30 cloves seemed like an awful lot of garlic. I explained that blanching garlic mellows the flavor, adding that the very way you cut garlic changes its flavor in a dish. She demonstrated only mild interest in this fact, and I completely lost her when I began to catalog all the different cutting methods and their effects.
At the dinner table, Lisa cooed over the dinner her daughter had prepared, marveling at the mild flavor despite the archipelago of garlic cloves.
“Yes,” Heath said, all reflective. “This is what gypsies would eat if they spent more time cooking in the country and less time hustling stuff and robbing people in the city.”
So much for doing no harm.
Adapted from Culinaria France
1 whole 4-pound chicken, quartered
8 slices bacon
30 cloves garlic
3 lemons, peeled, rinds thinly sliced and reserved
½ cup Banyuls or another fortified dessert wine
1 cup veal or chicken stock
Cook bacon in heavy, 5-quart pot until crisp and fat is rendered. Remove the strips and reserve.
In the same pot, brown chicken on medium heat in bacon fat. Add ¾ cup water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. While chicken cooks, place peeled garlic in pan of water and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute, drain, and cover with cold water to stop cooking process. Cut 2 lemons into quarters. Slice the third across the grain. Bring small pan of water to boil. Add lemons and cook for 1 minute. Drain and place in cold water to stop cooking process.
When chicken is tender, about 20 minutes, remove and set aside. Add Banyuls, and scrape caramelized bits until bottom of pan is clean and sauce has darkened. Cut chicken into serving-size portions and return to pot along with stock. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add garlic and lemon and cook another 10 minutes.
Serve immediately with steamed potatoes or rice.