Over the years I’ve acquired many, many Spanish cookbooks but one of my eternal favorites was one I bought way back in the day on a whim at Crate and Barrel: Spanish Country Cooking. (Yes, I paid retail for it.) I’ve written about it here before in singing its praises for inspiring one of my favorite soups and a fantastic bass recipe fried in pancetta, but probably my favorite recipe to cook from it is a simple garlic chicken number that I’ve loved for years but never shared with you. Well, that stops today, because it’s too good not to enjoy, and when paired with a side salad you won’t feel like you’ve abandoned your resolve to eat a little lighter if you so choose.
The original recipe calls for a mixture of chicken parts, but personally I’m a big fan of using just chicken thighs, because well, I love thighs, and that means you don’t have to monitor cooking temperatures of white and dark meat. I’ve made this with both bone-in and boneless fillets, and while you get a little extra flavor from the bone-in thighs, the boneless do cook a little faster which is always helpful during the week. Normally I don’t have sherry on hand so I’ll use a crisp white wine (Spanish when possible) or even white vermouth depending on what looks good, and the latter can help impart some lovely added aromas from the herbs and spices added to it in the fortification process, but this recipe is definitely on the forgiving side so you can use what you have that tastes good.
I’ll coat the chicken with the flour, paprika, salt and pepper overnight since it’s a dry rub and there’s no acid at work, and frankly I don’t want to wait 30 minutes for the chicken to sit in it the night of because I don’t have time for that. Everything gets tossed in the skillet and browned before adding the liquid, and then it’s a matter of cooking the meat until you get a reasonable temperature on your thermometer before declaring it as done.
Garlic chicken thighs (pollo al ajillo)
Slightly adapted from Spanish Country Kitchen
- 3-3.5 pounds chicken thighs, either boneless or bone-in
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 15 garlic cloves, separated and smashed but unpeeled
- 1/2 cup sherry, dry white wine or dry vermouth
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
Place flour, paprika, salt, and pepper in a large zip-top bag and shake well to combine; add chicken thighs, close, and toss well to evenly coat all pieces. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to overnight at most. (Note: if you leave it on overnight, it won’t get quite as golden crispy in the pan, but the sauce will get very thick.)
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the garlic, letting the cloves infuse for 2 minutes before getting too golden, and then removing them. Add the chicken and cook for one side–about 5 minutes–until brown, and then flip and cook the other side of the chicken for another 5 minutes, adding back the garlic cloves. Add the wine and bay leaf and cook for about 25-30 minutes depending on whether the thighs are bone-in or not. Remove from heat, place in a serving dish, and serve immediately, sprinkling with fresh parsley.