A saucy Italian skillet chicken recipe for quick, weeknight meals

A saucy Italian skillet chicken recipe for quick, weeknight meals

Chicken Quintiliano

Active time:15 mins

Total time:25 mins


Active time:15 mins

Total time:25 mins


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For more than 80 years, Colu Henry’s family has been making chicken Quintiliano, a saucy, one-pan dish that’s slightly sweet with caramelized garlic and deeply tangy from balsamic and red wine vinegars. Though it’s full of strong, punchy flavors, the final dish ends up softly pungent, or what Italians call agrodolce โ€” sweet and sour. It’s a wonderful recipe from Henry’s new book, โ€œColu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food.โ€

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.

โ€œChicken Quintiliano wasn’t a weekend dish, it wasn’t a holiday dish,โ€ Henry tells me by phone from Hudson, NY โ€œBut my grandmother treated it as a signature of hers.โ€ 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 organizers 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.

โ€œIt was a weeknight dinner, and it was on repeat,โ€ Henry says, noting that her grandmother always talked fondly of her old pal Luigi.

Ferrara Goodman lived to be 102. Her younger years were full of activism and union organizing, while she spent much of her later years cooking for her familyโ€”and teaching a young Henry how to make her favorite dishes, including chicken Quintiliano. โ€œGrowing up, I just knew I loved her cooking, and this chicken dish โ€” even though no one else seemed to make it except my nonni,โ€ Henry says.

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 flavored oil until it browns all around. (You should probably do this in batches if you have a skillet that’s less than 12 inches wide.)

How to cook chicken thighs and quarters โ€” the best poultry cuts you can buy

Next, add all the chicken back into the pan, along with the garlic, and pour in a full cup of vinegar. Henry calls for 1/2 cup red wine vinegar and 1/2 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 says 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 caramelized onions. One time I added a tablespoon of honey to bring out the sweetness of the garlic, and I’d probably do that again.

  • If you don’t eat chicken >> try this with fish (you won’t need to simmer it for as long) 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.
  • The garlic helps cut the strong vinegar flavor >> but try this same recipe with halved shallots or sliced โ€‹โ€‹onions for a sweeter spin.

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  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (4 to 6)
  • fine salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 fresh oregano sprigs
  • 1/2 cup (3/4 ounce) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for serving (optional)
  • Polenta, rice or mashed potatoes, for serving

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 2 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan and set aside.

Using flip flops, add 2 to 3 pieces of chicken to the pan. Cook until the chicken is lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Cut into the thickest part of one thigh to check that it’s no longer raw in the center. 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 red wine 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 8 minutes.

Uncover the pan, toss the chicken in the sauce and continue cooking until the sauce has reduced by about half, an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Serve family-style, sprinkled with the parsley and flaky salt, with polenta, rice or mashed potatoes on the side.

Per serving (1 1/2 chicken thighs and 1/4 cup sauce), based on 4

Calories: 453; Total Fat: 28g; Saturated Fat: 7g; Cholesterol: 199mg; Sodium: 346mg; Carbohydrates: 7 g; Dietary Fiber: 0g; Sugar: 5g; Protein: 42g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from โ€œColu Cooks: Easy Fancy Foodโ€ by Colu Henry (Abrams, 2022).

Tested by G. Daniela Galarza; e-mail questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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Catch up on this week’s Eat Voraciously recipes:

Monday: Pretzel Fried Chicken

Tuesday: Citrus-Marinated Fish Tacos

Wednesday: Big Little Summer Tomato Pizza

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