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Just picked: Garlic, to peel or not to peel?

Garlic, like these bulbs grown by Vang Produce of Spokane Valley and for sale at a recent Thursday Market in the South Perry District, packs a pungent punch. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Garlic, like these bulbs grown by Vang Produce of Spokane Valley and for sale at a recent Thursday Market in the South Perry District, packs a pungent punch. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Celebrity chef Alton Brown peels garlic for his 40 cloves and chicken recipe. So does former Saveur staffer Helen Rosner.

The legendary James Beard, however, did not. At least, not originally. A newer recipe on the James Beard Foundation website does call for peeled cloves.

Peeling garlic, especially 40 cloves, isn’t fun – even with the aid of a garlic peeler or a smash with the side of a blade of a knife. It’s time-consuming, too. Those clingy little thin skins never seem to want to let go.

Raw, garlic is pungent and astringent. Roasting tames the intensity and exposes the softer side of the allium, a close relative of shallots, leeks, chives and onions.

In this classic French dish, garlic cooks slowly alongside a whole chicken, mellowing the cloves and reducing them to a buttery spread. Peeled cloves impart a slightly more intense flavor and make it easier to whisk them – along with the pan juices and maybe a bit of cream – into a rich, savory sauce.

Unpeeled, they make for a more hands-on experience. “Serve the cooked whole garlic gloves with the chicken so that guests can squeeze the softened garlic out of their skins as a rich and tasty accompaniment,” Jenny Linford writes in her new book, simply titled “Garlic.”

Or, just save those creamy cloves and spread them on toast, bruschetta, a baguette or another favorite bread – maybe even on pizza dough, to add garlicky goodness to the crust.

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

From “Garlic” by Jenny Linford

4-pound free-range chicken

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

40 garlic cloves, separated but unpeeled

1/3 cup vermouth or dry white wine

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cup good-quality chicken stock

Handful of fresh tarragon sprigs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan/skillet. Add the chicken and brown on all sides. Save the pan juices.

Meanwhile, heat a casserole dish on the stove top. Transfer the browned chicken to the casserole dish. Tuck some of the garlic cloves into the cavity, sprinkle the rest around the chicken and pour over the vermouth or wine. Allow to sizzle briefly, then pour in the buttery juices from the frying pan/skillet, the lemon juice and stock. Add the tarragon, placing a few sprigs inside the cavity.

Bring to the boil on the stove top, then cover with the lid and transfer the casserole to the preheated oven. Bake, covered, for 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear.

Transfer the chicken to a serving dish. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic cloves to the dish. Pour the juices into a serving jug/pitcher to use as gravy, skimming off any excess fat. Serve the chicken with the garlic cloves and gravy.

Yield: 6 servings

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