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Chicken With Four U^qiyas of Garlic

May 30, 1996|CHARLES PERRY

One of the classic dishes of French cuisine is poulet a quarante gousses d'ail. For this dish, a chicken is put in a casserole with 40 whole garlic cloves and baked. The lid is sealed to the casserole with a flour-and-water paste.

Forty-clove chicken is not a Parisian dish; the Parisians are actually pretty fastidious about using garlic. It comes from Provence, the most garlic-oriented part of France. Now, if you head southwest from Provence, you find yourself in Spain, which is even more garlic-oriented. And it may be that 40-clove chicken originated somewhere in Spain.

The evidence is a recipe in an anonymous Arabic cookery manuscript (known, not surprisingly, as the Manuscrito Anonimo), which was written in 13th century Spain, or possibly Morocco--they were politically united at the time. Its recipe for a dish called thu^miyya says to pound four u^qiyas of garlic to a paste and fry it with the giblets of a plump hen "until the smell of the garlic comes out." Then you put the garlic and the chicken in a pot with spices (pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, saffron), the herb spikenard (an Old World herb used in perfumery), some almonds and the salty barley sauce murri.

"Seal the pot with dough," the recipe concludes, "place it in the oven and leave it until it is done. Then take it out and open the pot and pour its contents into a clean dish. A fragrant aroma will come forth and perfume the whole area."

So the garlic is fried and there are medieval fripperies like spices and almonds. Four u^qiyas was about 4 modern ounces, which works out pretty close to 40 cloves.

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