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    This saucy skillet chicken recipe has a story to tell

    G Daniela Galarza

    THE WASHINGTON POST – For more than 80 years, Colu Henry’s family has been making chicken Quintiliano, a saucy, one-pan dish that’s slightly sweet with caramelised garlic and deeply tangy from balsamic and vinegars. Though it’s full of strong, punchy flavours, the final dish ends up softly pungent, or what Italians call agrodolce – sweet and sour. It’s a marvelous recipe from Henry’s new book, Colu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food.

    Henry, a cookbook author and longtime food professional, grew up in Nanuet, a hamlet about an hour north of New York City. She remembers dinners on hot summer nights on the screened-in porch, and all the weekends when she’d help her grandmother make Sunday sauce for big family feasts. But the dish she remembers most was this chicken.

    “Chicken Quintiliano wasn’t a weekend dish, it wasn’t a holiday dish,” Henry told me by phone from Hudson, New York. “But my grandmother treated it as a signature of hers.” Her grandmother, Immaculata (Molly) Ferrara Goodman, who lived with the family, made it a few times a month. It wasn’t until Henry was older that she thought to ask about the story behind the recipe’s name.

    Here’s how that story goes, as far as Henry knows: Luigi Quintiliano and Molly were both organisers for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York and anti-fascist activists. After union meetings, they frequently cooked meals together, and that’s when, one day, Luigi introduced Molly to his go-to chicken recipe. Molly loved it so much, it became part of her regular rotation whenever she cooked for her family. Eventually, probably after retirement, she named the dish after her old, dear friend.

    “It was a weeknight dinner, and it was on repeat,” Henry said, noting that her grandmother always talked fondly of her old pal Luigi.

    Chicken Quintiliano. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

    Ferrara Goodman lived to be 102. Her younger years were full of activism and union organising, while she spent much of her later years cooking for her family – and teaching a young Henry how to make her favourite dishes, including chicken Quintiliano. “Growing up, I just knew I loved her cooking, and this chicken dish – even though no one else seemed to make it except my nonni,” Henry said.

    Today, Henry still makes it a few times a month. Below is her streamlined recipe. First, you’ll saute a handful of garlic cloves in olive oil. Fish them out, set them aside, and then cook the seasoned chicken in the flavoured oil until it browns all around.

    Next, add all the chicken back into the pan, along with the garlic, and pour in a full cup of vinegar. Henry calls for half cup vinegar and half cup balsamic, but if you have only one kind, you can just use that. This isn’t a place to bust out the fancy, aged, syrupy balsamic, though.

    You want to be able to let the sauce reduce as the chicken simmers in it, that way you always end up with moist, tender chicken.

    Henry said her grandmother always served this chicken atop a bed of rice pilaf, but it would go equally well with polenta or mashed potatoes to help soak up the sauce.

    The sauce is easy to adapt. You can enhance it with anchovies or olives or caramelised onions. One time I added a tablespoon of honey to bring out the sweetness of the garlic, and I’d probably do that again.

    CHICKEN QUINTILIANO

    Tangy with vinegar and sweet from caramelised garlic, this one-skillet chicken recipe is a great example of what cookbook author Colu Henry calls easy, fancy food in her new cookbook of the same name. If you don’t eat chicken, try this with fish or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.

    Boneless skinless thighs cook quickly in the sauce, but you could also use bone-in, skin-on thighs.

    Chicken thighs tend to become very tender in the vinegary sauce, though you could use chicken breasts, too. Take care not to simmer them for the full amount of time, as they will cook more quickly.

    INGREDIENTS

    – Two pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    – Fine salt
    – Freshly ground black pepper
    – Three tablespoons olive oil
    – 10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
    – Half cup balsamic vinegar
    – Half cup vinegar
    – Two sprigs fresh oregano
    – Half cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
    – Flaky sea salt for serving (optional)
    – Polenta, rice or mashed potatoes, for serving

    DIRECTIONS

    Pat the chicken dry and lightly season it with salt and pepper.

    In a large saute pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic cloves and cook, stirring occasionally, until they become fragrant and start to brown, about two minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan and set aside.

    Using tongs, add two to three pieces of chicken to the pan. Cook until the chicken is lightly browned, three to four minutes per side. Cut into the thickest part of one thigh to check that it’s no longer raw in the centre. Transfer the browned chicken to a large plate and repeat with the remaining chicken. (The chicken may not be cooked all the way through at this point, and that’s okay).

    Return all of the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the balsamic and vinegars and bring to a simmer.

    Add the oregano and the garlic, cover the pan, and cook the chicken in the sauce until it’s cooked through, about eight minutes.

    Uncover the pan, toss the chicken in the sauce and continue cooking until the sauce has reduced by about half, an additional two to three minutes. Serve family-style, sprinkled with the parsley and flaky salt, with polenta, rice or mashed potatoes on the side.

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