When my love makes 40 clove garlic chicken, he goes to the grocery store and carefully selects garlic heads that are firm and not blemished. He also buys elephant garlic, for it has an even milder flavor than regular garlic. It also has larger cloves, so he doesn’t have to peel so many small ones to get 40. Then he purchases a tray of chicken thighs, with the bone in and the skin on. He finds Yukon gold potatoes and carrots and fresh thyme. He brings these treasures home and lines them up on the kitchen counter.
He cuts the roots off the garlic and puts them in a large glass jar. He puts in about seven cloves at a time. Then he shakes the jar vigorously with his strong arms to get the paper-thin husks of the garlic to rub off. Then he cuts the elephant garlic into regular clove size chunks and sets them aside. He swiftly counts the cloves- 2, 4, 6, 8…12, 14, 16, 18…22, 24, 26, 28…32, 34, 36, 38, 40. Next he dices the potatoes, carrots and onions into ¼ inch size chunks. His knife chops swiftly and surely. He peels the skin off the potatoes onto a piece of paper towel and then carefully folds the peels and the onion skins up in the towel and throws the neat bundle into the trash.
He trims the excess fat off the thighs with a pair of sharp kitchen scissors. Then he arranges them, skin side down, in a huge glass bowl, coated with avocado oil. Then he sprinkles salt and grinds fresh pepper over the thighs. The pepper shaker is filled with white, red and black peppercorns which impart a more complex heat—the red ones add a little kick.
He melts butter in a large heavy skillet, coated with a special non-stick surface. Then he adds avocado oil, which has just the right mild flavor and cooking point. He arranges the thighs in the pan and carefully browns them on each side. He patiently waits for them to gets a caramel-colored crust and then skillfully turns them over, as not to splatter the hot oil. Then he removes the thighs and adds the diced potatoes, carrots and onions to the pan. It is time to sprinkle the vegetables with some salt. Then he tenderly tucks the garlic in around the thighs and add a sprig of fresh thyme on top of each thigh. Next he drizzles avocado oil over the chicken, about ¼ cup. Placing the glass lid over the pan, he places it in a 350-degree oven for one and a half hours.
He lets you read his poetry while the chicken bakes, simmering in the vegetable juices and becoming infused with the garlic’s nutty flavor. Every half hour, he rises and turns the pan a quarter turn in the oven so it will bake evenly. The aroma floats out of the kitchen and through the house. The pit of your empty stomach groans in anticipation.
When the chicken is almost done, he prepares the spinach. First, he dices up half of a red onion. Then he dices up half a cup of garlic, really fine. In a Dutch oven, he pours in some olive oil and adds a quarter cup of butter. After that has melted, he adds the onion and sautés it briskly. Then he adds the garlic and stirs it in. He dumps in a whole large container of fresh spinach and carefully folds the onion-garlic-oil and butter mixture among the leaves, coating them and wilting them at the same time. Before the spinach gets mushy, he removes it from the heat.
To serve, he places a chicken thigh on a large cobalt plate, then scoops up the potato, carrot and onion mixture and ladles it next to the chicken. Bits of orange and white dance around the gold. Then he lifts up some of the deep green wilted spinach salad and nestles it next to the chicken. He adds three small rounds of fresh French bread to the plate for a final flair.
To eat, pull the tender meat off the thigh bone with your fork. Then take one of the garlic cloves and spread it onto one of the French bread rounds with your knife, Take a bite of the chicken, then a bite of the garlic toast, letting the smooth, roasted flavor melt in your mouth. Follow that with a taste of the wilted spinach, with all its buttery, garlicy goodness. Scoop up some of the potato mixture with a spoon and enjoy its onion flavor as well. Chase it all down with chai sun tea that has hints of cinnamon and cloves.
A hush falls over the table as you all dig in. Only a murmured “mmmmmm” breaks the silence. You are transported to the banks of a slow, summer river, watching the sun set in a papaya sky. Finally, after licking the buttery garlic off your fingers, you push your chair back from the table and emit a wistful sigh. The meal is over, but the memory will linger for a long time.
When my love makes 40 clove garlic chicken, I watch him prepare this dish with pleasure. He has made it many times and moves with grace and judiciousness that comes from practice and thoughtfully deciding which procedure is best. As I watch, I am filled with the realization that he will tend to me with the same tenderness, patience, and passion and I am filled with longing and peace. These two emotions mingle together