John and I recently had the chance to shop at one of those big warehouse grocery stores that usually require you to be a member before they let you in the door. While there, we bought a giant pack of chicken wings because he loves to make hot wings. The wings are funny, however. They have a strange texture and don’t cook suitably for hot wings.
Since we still have a dozen left, I decided to use them for Chicken the Way My Mama Made It. That’s my name for it, I’m not sure mom called it anything.
I rarely make Chicken the Way My Mama Made It, because it is completely heart unhealthy. I tried one time making it with only chicken breasts, and it just doesn’t work. It needs the dark meat to make the pan juices that cook the chicken and give it flavor. So if you need a nice healthy recipe for the boneless, skinless chicken breasts in your freezer, this is not it.
Ideally, what you need is the whole chicken, cut into serving pieces, but just thighs and legs would work nicely, too. You need a big, heavy pot with a lid and a stove with a low heat setting. I have one of those pricey Le Creuset Dutch ovens that was a Christmas gift, but a cheaper cast iron chicken fryer works just as well.*
You can flour the chicken lightly before browning, but you don’t need to. Season well with salt, pepper, and maybe a little paprika.
Now, brown the chicken in enough olive oil to cover the pan bottom by about 1/8 inch or less. You need just enough to brown the chicken well and keep it from sticking until it starts producing its own juice, so you may have to eyeball it. In the last minute of browning, add a few cloves of garlic. I’d say 3 or 4, depending on size, but you might like more. (I have an online friend who substitutes a head of garlic for each clove called for in a recipe.) You can leave whole, cut it half, or sliver, so that you can remove it when the chicken is done cooking, but don’t chop unless you are okay with having the chopped garlic in the pan juices when you are done.
Add a bay leaf (two if they’re small), salt and pepper one more time, reduce the heat to as low as possible, cover the pan and cook until the meat begins to fall off the bones (an hour and a half, two hours maybe) and the skin is lightly caramelized.
It is important that the oil be olive oil. It doesn’t have to be the fancy extra virgin stuff. It’s actually better if it’s the heavy, fruity (cheap) kind, but it needs to be olive. It is also important that you use fresh garlic, but if you only have garlic salt or garlic powder in the house, I’m not going to call the garlic police on you. The oil is important, though.
Once it’s done, the way you serve it is you throw out the chicken and soak a loaf of bread with the pan juices. No, seriously, of course you eat the chicken, but you do need a nice crusty bread to sop up the juices. Unless, of course, you are gluten sensitive, in which case, just serve the chicken with some sort of starch to slop the juices over: mashed potatoes, rice, maybe quinoa?
You can brown some onions in with the chicken, and add some mushrooms during the latter portion of the cooking, but the juices may toughen the chicken. Better IMO to take the cooked chicken out of the pan and keep warm somewhere while you brown the mushrooms and onions and then add them to the pan juices and cook for a few minutes.
Serve with a green salad, a favorite vegetable, and, of course, the bread.
*You can find instructions online for restoring grubby cast iron pots that you find at flea markets and estate sales. One you clean them up and season them, they will outlast you just like they did the previous owner.