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Garlic bulbs

Moss Reid and a couple of other regular renegades from my novels will be (don’t panic – this isn’t a plot spoiler) hanging out in plenty of French bistros in book #3.

That means lots of classic bistro dishes, often slow cooked: Coq au Vin, Bouef en Daube, Lapin à la Moutarde (scrummy bunny in a mustard sauce)…

Poulet aux Quarante Gousses d’Ail, or Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, is a roast bird with 40 (yes, 40) cloves of garlic. But don’t chicken out on me just yet. The “with 40 cloves” bit in its title really does mean 40 cloves. Use all 40 of them.

Slow cooking and tipping points

That may sound excessive, extreme even. But that’s the thing about gentle, slow cooking.

Sometimes when you take things past their tipping point (as the scientists say), a magical transformation takes place. It’s a bit like a private detective’s frazzled brain after he has had time to mull over the jigsaw pieces in his latest puzzling case. It may seem strange or even dangerous, but give it time and everything comes together in the end.

Besides, we’re not talking about ending up with 40 cloves of raw garlic, which would be a right shock to the system.

And it’s not garlic fried in thin slices in hot fat.  We’re talking about garlic that you cook whole, slowly, the cloves cocooned in their protective skin,  gradually simmered with the chicken until the bulbs become soft, mild and mellow.

So creamy sweet, in fact, that you’d almost be tempted to make garlic ice cream out of them. Seriously.

Garlic tricks

The chicken-with-40-cloves dish probably comes from around Provence and the Languedoc, where so much garlic is grown – often the chunky big sweet pink bulbs.

You will need about two or three bulbs of good garlic. Don’t use very old and wizened bulbs that may be beginning to rot inside, or the cheap-and-nasty variety you often find on supermarket shelves. It may be cheap, but it’s often surprisingly sour.

Respect the garlic. Never let it burn, or it will become bitter and horrible. This is why in the recipe below you:

  • Cook it very slowly and never overdo the oven temperature
  • Protect the garlic by putting the chicken over it, or putting the cloves in the chicken’s cavity
  • Cover the dish with kitchen foil or a lid – again to prevent burning
  • For added protection, keep each clove in its skin while it cooks (don’t worry – you won’t be eating the skins)
  • Or cook the cloves within a stock  (see “Variations” below)

The recipe

The traditional recipe is very simple and straightforward. Ingredients may vary but would generally include:

  • 1 chicken (that’s the poulet bit)
  • 40 individual cloves of garlic (gousses d’ail) – still in their skins
  • A cup of water or white wine
  • Salt, pepper, thyme, a bay leaf or two
  • Some olive olive

If you know how to roast a chicken, the following basic recipe is very easy.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C
  2. In a baking dish (an earthenware one if you have one) throw in the herbs, garlic cloves and water/wine
  3. Season the chicken with pepper
  4. Put the chicken on top of this layer of garlic and sprinkle lightly with olive oil
  5. Cover the whole dish with foil – or a lid if you’re using one of those old fashioned clay brick things
  6. Cook for 75 minutes to an hour and a half
  7. (Optional): during the final 15 minutes of cooking, can take off the foil or lid to brown and crispen the skin
  8. Check that the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the juices run clear
  9. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving

One traditional French way to serve it up is to make some toast (or get some crusty bread), butter it, and squeeze the garlic out of its skins and spreading it on the toast. You probably won’t want to eat the skins.

Or you could squeeze the garlic stuff out of the skins and smoosh the gooey paste into mashed potatoes or straight into your gravy.


A string of garlic bulbsAmong the many variations, you could rub the chicken with butter, including the cavity, and put some of the garlic and herbs inside the cavity. Then make a bed with the rest of the garlic for the bird to sit on.

Or use a generous pinch of dried or fresh tarragon.

Or add a splash of vermouth.

Or if you’re out of garlic, try small onions (the size of pickling onions), or onion slices.

Wet roasting

Or do a technique that’s popular in Italy: “wet roasting”. It involves a good deal more liquid than the recipe above. When you put the chicken in the baking dish, add about a cup of stock if you have it, or plain water, or a bit of both, or crumble a corner of a good stock cube into the water, and add a glass of white wine or even leftover cider. Keep an eye on the chicken as it cooks, and add more liquid if needs be so that the bottom of the dish doesn’t dry up.

It’s a great trick. Not only will the garlic simmer away in the liquid and not burn (as long as most of it remains submerged), but the process also leaves the white meat very moist – it’s in a sort of steam bath or sauna. Some of the bird’s juices will also run into this liquid, which will reduce to a more concentrated stock.

Even if you don’t use this liquid in the finished dish, it will kickstart the chicken stock you can make later with all the carcass leftovers.

More wet-roasting

Here are some more wet-roast things to do, from Simon Hopkinson’s classic cookbook “Roast Chicken and Other Stories”:

You can add chopped tomatoes, diced bacon, cream, endless different herbs, mushrooms, spring vegetables, spices – particularly saffron and ginger – or anything else that you might fancy. For me, the simple roast bird is the best, but it is useful to know how much further you can go when roasting a chicken.

Exactly. So this week go a little bit further than usual by roasting it with 40 cloves of garlic. At least 40, because any leftover roasted garlic can always go into other beautiful concoctions such as a garlic mayonnaise (like aïoli).

Once you become a convert, you will find yourself throwing a handful of garlic cloves into many other roast meat dishes.

You could even try a Gigot aux 40 Gousses d’Ail. A slow-cooked lamb shank or leg of lamb (or many Irish supermarkets now do half a leg), with garlic and rosemary. Do it as a variation on Gigot de Sept Heures (a veeeerrrry slow-cooked lamb). Delish.

Photo credits: Garlic photos by Pivari (top) and Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga), Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0