The Issue with Alton's Brown's 40-Clove Chicken Recipe (& How to Fix It)
Alton Brown has always been the quirky, slightly nerdy-in-a-fun-way guy that I liken to the Encyclopedia of Food Television. He does deep dives into the science behind food and cooking techniques, but always ends with a recipe that makes you want to get into the kitchen and make it yourself. His chicken roasted with 40 (!) cloves of garlic has earned rave reviews for years, so I knew I had to try it for myself.
As written, the recipe only has four main ingredients: a whole chicken (cut into eight pieces), lots of olive oil, fresh thyme, and a ton of garlic cloves. It promises to give off "an aroma that wraps the kitchen like a hug," and while that part lived up to its promise, I found other aspects of the recipe to be seriously lacking. Here's what I thought of it all.
How to Make Alton Brown's 40-Clove Chicken
This recipe has just four basic steps: Heat the oven, season the chicken pieces, sear the chicken, and bake covered at 350°F for 1 1/2 hours with lots of olive oil, fresh thyme sprigs, and 40 cloves of peeled garlic. It ends with instructions to serve it family-style with lots of toasted bread to spread the garlic cloves on.
What I Thought of the Results
As promised, my kitchen (and really, my whole house) smelled like roasting garlic while it was in the oven. It smelled absolutely delicious and I couldn't wait to dive in. Once done cooking, the garlic had completely softened in the olive oil and was, as promised, perfect when spread on toasted bread with a sprinkle of salt on top.
The chicken, however, was another story. While it was garlic-flavored, it was also very overcooked. I had suspected all along that roasting the chicken for 1 1/2 hours — especially since it was cut into smaller pieces — would be too long. And I was right. The meat, both white and dark, while not completely dried out, had turned to a soft, almost-mushy texture. It was also underseasoned, mainly because Alton's recipe didn't specify how much salt to use and the 1 teaspoon of kosher salt I seasoned with just wasn't enough. And while the garlic oil was great, there was just an excess of it in the pan, making everything just feel really greasy.
The instructions looked simple, but I found that it also lacked some crucial details. It wasn't possible to sear all the chicken in the pan in one go, so I had to do it in two batches. This may be common sense to those who cook a lot, but novice cooks would find it frustrating trying to brown all the pieces together in an overcrowded pan. It also didn't specify whether the garlic cloves should be submerged in the oil, which I thought was key to cooking them and flavoring the oil.
Overall, the chicken and garlic were certainly edible, but a bit of a letdown after they had tempted me with such a fantastic fragrance for so long.
If You Make Alton Brown's 40-Clove Chicken ...
1. Season the chicken aggressively and brown in two batches.
Don't be shy with the salt here, as the beginning is the only chance you'll get to add lots of flavor. Next time, I would season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and also brown the chicken in two batches over medium-high heat to make sure the pan isn't overcrowded. Also, when cutting up the chicken, go for 10 pieces rather than eight by cutting each breast in half — this makes for more evenly sized pieces that are easier to brown and serve.
2. Use pre-peeled garlic and less olive oil.
If I had to peel 40 cloves of garlic myself, I wouldn't make this recipe. Trust me when I say to buy pre-peeled garlic instead. I would also use half the amount of olive oil (1/4 cup) which, combined with the grease that comes out of the chicken as it cooks, will be more than enough to keep the garlic cloves submerged (also key!).
3. Cook for less time.
Once the chicken is covered and in the oven, I would cook it between 45 minutes and one hour, pulling it out when the chicken registers 165°F in the thickest piece and the garlic is tender and spreadable.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 10
While this recipe definitely delivered sweet, spreadable garlic, it needed some clearer steps and much less time in the oven for a better chicken texture. Still, I love this idea of confit chicken and roasted garlic — with a few tweaks, it could be a winner that tastes as good as it smells.
Get the recipe: Alton Brown's 40 Cloves and a Chicken
Have you tried Alton Brown's 40-clove chicken? What did you think of it? Or is there another famous chicken recipe you swear by? Tell us everything in the comments below.