Dear Noelle: My husband took me for a birthday dinner at Casa Cordoba, a new Spanish restaurant in Montrose, Calif. Its olive chicken was fabulous! It satisfied my husband’s preference for comfort food and mine for nuance. Can you get the recipe? I would love to know how the restaurant got the chicken so tender and so infused with flavor.
— Anna Ganahl, Glendale, Calif.
Dear Anna: If you’re a fan of olives and garlic, this is a meal for you. A whole chicken is brined in a flavorful marinade, then butterflied, stuffed with a bold filling of olives and roasted garlic, and slowly cooked over low heat to keep the meat moist and tender. The chicken is garnished with garlic oil and tender slices of Serrano ham in the last few minutes of cooking. It makes quite a presentation when it’s served and is a perfect dish when hosting company.
Casa Cordoba’s pollo de aceitunas (olive chicken)
Cooking time: About 3 hours, plus brining time.
Serves: 4 to 6
1 cup salt
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 orange, halved
1 cup brown sugar
1 gallon water
1 whole (5- to 6-pound chicken)
In a large pot, combine the salt, garlic cloves, bay leaves, allspice, fennel seeds, orange and brown sugar with the water. Heat the water until it comes to a boil and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Place the chicken in a nonreactive container large enough to hold it and the brine, and pour the brine over. Place the chicken in the refrigerator to brine overnight. Drain the chicken, discarding the brine, before cooking.
1 1/2 cups pitted kalamata olives
1 1/2 cups pitted manzanilla olives
8 cloves roasted garlic
Coarsely chop the olives and garlic in a food processor or by hand, then set aside.
1 cup grapeseed oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
In a small saucepan, heat the oil and garlic over very low heat about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, to infuse the oil with the garlic flavor. Remove from heat and set aside.
Brined chicken, drained and patted dry
Few sprigs fresh rosemary
Few sprigs fresh thyme
2 to 3 thin slices Serrano ham
Heat the oven to 250 degrees.
Prepare the chicken: Trim any excess fat and skin from the chicken. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut the spine out of the back of the chicken. Open the chicken like a book and lay it flat over a cutting board, skin-side down.
Spread the stuffing over the inside of the flattened chicken. Place a sheet of foil over the stuffing, gently pressing it along the sides of the chicken; this will hold the stuffing in as the chicken is flipped over.
Invert a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet over the chicken. Lift up the cutting board and baking sheet, “sandwiching” the chicken, and carefully flip the chicken over so it is resting on the baking sheet, skin-side up. Place the rosemary and thyme sprigs over the chicken.
Place the chicken in the oven and slowly cook until it reaches an interior temperature of 155 to 160 degrees when measured with an instant-read thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh. This will take about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Remove the herbs from the top of the chicken and brush the chicken generously with the garlic oil.
Place the chicken back in the oven (the oven may not have yet reached 450 degrees, which is fine) and continue to cook until the skin is nicely crisped and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes, and the internal temperature is 165 degrees. The last few minutes, drape the Serrano ham over the chicken to crisp.
Remove from heat, and serve the chicken hot.
Nutrition information per serving: Calories 651; Protein 58 g; Carbohydrates 8 g; Fiber 2 g; Fat 42 g; Saturated fat 10 g; Cholesterol 226 mg; Sugar 2 g; Sodium 1,755 mg