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 red wine 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 wonderful 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 tells me. “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 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.
“It was a weeknight dinner, and it was on repeat,” 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 organising, while she spent much of her later years cooking for her family – and teaching a young Henry how to make her favorite 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 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 pan that’s less than 30cm wide).
Next, add all the chicken back into the pan, along with the garlic, and pour in a full cup of vinegar. Henry calls for 120ml red wine vinegar and 120ml 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 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.
Tangy with vinegar and sweet from caramelised garlic, this one-pan chicken recipe is a great example of what Henry calls easy, fancy food in her new cookbook of the same name. The original recipe for this dish has been in Henry’s family for more than 80 years, so you know it’s a keeper.
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 flavour, but try this same recipe with halved shallots or sliced onions for a sweeter spin.
storage notes: Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes
900g boneless, skinless chicken thighs (4 to 6)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
120ml balsamic vinegar
120ml red wine vinegar
2 fresh oregano sprigs
20g 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 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 OK).
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.
Nutritional information per serving, based on 4 | Calories: 453; total fat: 28g; saturated fat: 7g; cholesterol: 199mg; sodium: 346mg; carbohydrates: 7g; dietary fibre: 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.
© The Washington Post