Chicken with garlic cloves and walnuts is a marriage made in heaven. Well, almost in heaven. I first had it on a farm in the Dordogne, a very heaven-like region in southwest France.
On the Farm
When I was a cooking student and later a chef in Paris, I would go to this farm nearly every weekend to help the farm wife, Danie Dubois, cook for the paying guests who came for meals on the farm. To welcome them, the Dubois family installed a very long table in their dining room right off the kitchen, and it would fill at lunch and dinner with guests and often friends who stopped by too, for Danie’s meals were the talk of the region.
Palate Wide Open
Danie and her husband, Guy, raised geese for foie gras. Danie’s mother raised chickens, an orchard across from the farm supplied walnuts, and garlic was abundant everywhere. Danie’s food was always hearty and delicious, because she used what was grown on her own, or neighboring farms. But she also had her eyes – and her palate – wide open so that a few squeezes of lemon brightened a dish like this one, giving it that extraordinary touch.
As I cooked alongside Danie, I learned her secrets. Sometimes we’d go harvest things on the farm together, too, like dandelion greens from the field next to the house, green beans, leeks, salad greens from the garden. Whatever we did, Danie would tell explain and show so that soon I was following her example, incorporating what she taught me into my own cooking.
This dish couldn’t be simpler yet its flavor is complex, its origins surprising. And when you serve it, with its bright, rich flavor that bursts forth with such intensity, you’ll wonder where it has been all your life.
CHICKEN WITH WALNUTS - POULET AUX NOIX
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 3 ½ to 4 pounds; 1 3/4 to 2 kg, chicken cut into 8 pieces (2 breast pieces, 2 wings with portion of breast attached, 2 legs, 2 thighs), giblets reserved
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups; 375 -500 ml white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc
- 12 cloves garlic
- 1-1/4 cups;140g walnut halves or large pieces
- Parsley sprigs – for garnish
- Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, brown the chicken pieces, seasoning them liberally with salt and pepper, until they are golden, about 5 minutes per side.
- Add the lemon juice, ½ cup (125ml) of the wine, and the garlic cloves to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the chicken is nearly cooked through, about 15 minutes. Then stir the walnuts into the skillet, along with the giblets, cover, and continue cooking for about 8 minutes. Remove the cover from the skillet and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pan juices have evaporated, and the chicken, walnuts, and garlic are golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Be sure to watch the walnuts, for they tend to brown easily. If they are getting too brown at any point in the cooking, remove and reserve them, returning them to the pan just before serving.
- Transfer the chicken, garlic, and walnuts to a warmed serving platter and deglaze the skillet with the remaining wine, scraping the bottom to loosen any caramelized bits. Begin by adding the smaller amount of wine; if you need more, top it up with the remaining wine and cook until the sauce is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Then pour sauce over the chicken, garnish with the parsley sprigs and serve immediately.