There is this unconvincing expectation that when the children start school, free time will be in abundance. In contrast, I find September to be the most exhausting month as everyone adjusts to going to school, doing homework and the commitment to be on time, well turned out with prepared items in hand. Then there are the illnesses which do their seasonal rounds shortly after class recommences and the children swap exotic bugs from their summer holidays. If this is your current predicament, I have just the dish for you. It is a one dish wonder which is loved by young and old alike. You can tell adults it is pollo e patate, a rustic homemade Italian dish, but I would say to children it is chicken and chips. They will likely focus on the last word, “chips”, and wholeheartedly agree what a wonderful supper it must be. If the school year holiday bug has already surfaced, then use the chicken carcass to make soup.
I use my beloved heavy, black cast iron frying pan to make this dish, rendering down the fat from the pancetta and frying the garlic until golden. In a typical pollo e patate, the potatoes are nestled amongst the chicken to absorb the juices. In this version of the dish, similarly to rombo al forno, the chicken is kept moist as it is sheltered from the drying heat of the oven by the potatoes. The potatoes then turn a lovely golden colour and are perfectly crispy. Juicy chicken and crispy potatoes together are a combination loved the world over. Enjoy.
Pollo e patate (chicken and chips)
This dish has many regional variations. Pancetta can be eliminated, chopped prosciutto may be added, different herbs such as thyme, marjoram, bay leaf and basil used, a pinch of saffron can be added and 5 chopped tomatoes can be added after the white wine has been reduced. Halved new potatoes can be nestled among the chicken instead of the potato rounds placed on top of the chicken (this version does not require an oven and can be done covered on the stove / hob) but I find children prefer the crispy, golden chips. Experiment and find your own favourite version of this dish. For illustrated step-by-step instructions, click here.
1 whole chicken
10 grams sage (can substitute thyme or basil), rinsed, dried and finely chopped
15 grams rosemary, rinsed, dried and finely chopped
100 mls white wine
60 mls extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
80 grams pancetta, cut into 1/2 cm strips (can use streaky bacon)
1 onion, peeled, ends removed and finely chopped
800 gms potatoes, sliced into 8 mm thick rounds (soak in cold water until needed)
120 mls chicken stock or water
The day before, cut the chicken up by cutting down the back with scissors. Grab a hold of the leg and and pull it away from the body to loosen. Cut through the joint to separate. Repeat on the other side. Flip the chicken over and cut down the breastbone. Add the chicken pieces, 10 grams of the rosemary, the sage and the white wine to a plastic bag and tie tightly. Refrigerate overnight to marinate.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Remove the chicken from the marinate, reserving the liquid separately.
Heat a frying pan until hot and add 30 mls olive oil, the garlic cloves and pancetta. When the garlic is coloured and the pancetta has rendered its fat, add the pieces of chicken to brown. Add salt and pepper to taste while continuing to turn the pieces of chicken until they are evenly browned. Sprinkle the marinade over top and press the onion into the pan to mix. Cook until the onion is soft, about 3 minutes.
Drain the potato rounds and mix with 30 mls olive oil, the remaining 5 gms of rosemary and salt and pepper. Add the potatoes to the top of the chicken. Pour the chicken stock over and place in the oven. Roast for 4o minutes or until the potatoes are golden and crispy and the chicken’s internal temperature (check the thickest bit nearest but not touching the bone) is 64C (150-155F)*. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes to allow the juices to settle before serving.
*Official guidelines state that the safe temperature to cook chicken is 75C (165F).