Even with nearly 600 recipes posted over ten years of blogging on Italian home cooking, I still find there are some basic recipes I’ve managed to miss. The other day a reader wrote in asking if I had the recipe for an old time family chicken dish, which, when it was described to me, I immediately recognized as a very classic, very basic pollo in padella, or Pan Roasted Chicken. No worries, I thought. I’ll just point them to the recipe that I had surely posted early in my blogging career? Oops…
It’s an embarrassing omission since I pride myself on having created a website that I like to think of as more of an online cookbook than a blog. Even if I know there are still gaps, I thought I had covered the basics by now. But no. This was like blogging about American cooking and never having posted a meatloaf recipe! Ah well, better late than never…
Pollo in padella is perhaps the most basic and best known chicken dish in the entire Italian repertoire, the kind of thing you might serve after lasagne for Sunday dinner. And it’s a classic for very good reasons. It is extremely simple, but very delicious.
You brown chicken pieces in olive oil scented with rosemary and garlic, then throw in a splash of white wine, cover and simmer until done. And that’s all there is to it. Always tasty, and if your chicken is top notch, it can be sublimely toothsome.
- 2 chickens, cut into serving pieces (see Notes)
- 2-3 garlic cloves, slightly crushed and peeled
- A sprig of rosemary
- A bay leaf
- White wine
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
In a non-stick sauté pan or covered skillet large enough to hold all the chicken pieces, gently sauté the garlic cloves, rosemary and bay leaf in the olive oil, just until the ingredient give off their aroma and the garlic is just starting to brown. Remove.
Turn up the heat to a moderate flame and add the chicken pieces. Brown them well on all sides, which should take about 10-15 minutes. Keep the pieces well spaced to ensure proper browning, proceeding in batches if necessary.
Once all the chicken pieces are well browned, season them well with salt and pepper, turning them so that they have seasoning on all sides. Now add a good splash of white wine, again turning the pieces as the wine evaporates.
After a couple of minutes, the wine should be well reduced (but not entirely evaporated) and have lost its alcohol. Lower the heat and cover the pan. Let the chicken pieces simmer for about 15-20 minutes further, turning from time to time, until they are cooked through and perfectly tender.
Add liquid (either more wine or water) if things dry out during the simmer. If you find that the chicken has given off a lot of liquid during the simmer, turn up the heat and boil off the excess. You should wind up with ample but well-reduced and intensely flavored pan juices.
Serve the chicken pieces right away, napped with their pan juices, which are delicious drizzled over mashed potatoes.
Notes on Pollo in padella
In terms of technique, you’re on Easy Street with this recipe. But there are a couple of things to look out for. First off, sauté the garlic very gently at first so as not to burn it, which would lend a bitter taste to the dish. And avoid crowding the chicken pieces so they will brown properly. Proceed in batches if you need to.
Also, while the chicken is simmering, try to keep things moist— but not exceedingly wet, either. Although some English language recipes for pollo in padella refer to it as “braised” chicken, that might be misleading. You don’t want to cover, or even partially cover, the chicken with liquid for the simmer. But here you want just a small layer of liquid at the bottom of the pan, just enough to avoid the meat drying out. So I’d say the technique is better translated as “pan roasting”.
One final thing I should mention: The chicken pieces will splatter. A lot. Drying the chicken pieces thoroughly with paper towels will reduce the splatter somewhat. But no matter how meticulous I think I’ve been, I’ve never managed to actually eliminate the splattering. So be armed with a cover or splatter guard, which you should deploy at critical moments, in particular when you first add the chicken pieces to the pan and then when adding the wine.
The Key to Success: A Tasty Chicken
As for the ingredients, you also want to use the dark meat for a pollo in padella—legs and thighs, as well as wings if you like. Chicken breast is a bit too bland and tends to dry out too quickly for a low and slow cooked dish like this one. I’d save for other dishes like breaded cutlets, where the breading seals in the juices, or pollo al burro, where the butter bath keeps things moist.
As I mentioned at the top, pollo in padella is at its best when you use a top notch chicken. In fact, to be frank, it’s actually almost obligatory. This is not a dish with a lot of bold seasoning or a zesty sauce to make up for the blandness of a factory farmed chicken.
My personal favorite chicken right at the moment is D’Artagnan’s Green Circle chicken.* It has incredible flavor. Its meat is always firm not flabby, And it doesn’t ooze liquid as it cooks the way supermarket chicken tends to do. That’s a real problem when employing the arrosto morto technique in a dish like this one, which counts on the chicken simmering in minimal liquid. In short, this is a real chicken, not Frankenstein food.
Variations on pollo in padella
Starting with this basic recipe for pollo in padella, you can go in an almost infinite number of directions. Perhaps the most popular is to add potatoes wedges to braise along with the chicken pieces once browned. And indeed, you could add any number of veg, according to the season. Artichokes, I think, go particularly well, but you could also go with cherry tomatoes, bell peppers… Whatever strikes your fancy, really.
Another interesting and pleasant variation is to substitute the wine with beer in which case you’ll have made pollo alla birra. It’s a favorite for informal meals and, I’m told, a favorite among university students.
The virtue of buying a whole chicken
Although yes, it’s convenient to buy chicken pieces for a cut-up chicken dish like this, I much prefer to buy a whole chicken and cut it up myself. To begin with, pre-packaged cut up chicken is almost always of the tasteless factory farmed variety. For a chicken that really tastes like chicken, you need to buy it whole.
And then a whole chicken is much more economical. Not just because chicken costs less by the pound when you buy it whole, but also because of all the uses you get out of it: as mentioned, I use the “dark meat” in the legs, thighs and wing for low and slow cooked dishes like pollo in padella, the breasts for breaded cutlets or other quick-cooking dishes like pollo al burro. And I never throw away the carcass. It goes right into the stock pot to make homemade broth.
And when I’m feeling especially ambitious, I’ll render the skin from the breasts and carcass. You not only get some chicken fat that almost as tasty as duck fat for frying, the skin cracklings are wonderful eating sprinkled with a bit of salt and washed down with a crisp white wine…
If you find the idea of cutting up a whole chicken intimidating, don’t be. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really easy. It’s hard to describe in words, but if you watch this video, you’ll see just how simple it is:
My technique is slightly different from this one. I prefer the breasts boneless and skinless. You just run a boning knife along the rib cage down from the sternum and it comes right off. Then just tear the skin off with your hands. But if you like the breast for a cut-up chicken dishes like this one, then do it as illustrated here. I do like to trim off the wing tips, though, which also go into the stock pot.
Although the video takes you through the process slowly for illustration purposes, the whole process is really quick. Using a smaller chicken than this one usually, it takes me 2 minutes or less!
The pros and cons of non-stick cookware
While I usually don’t cook with non-stick cookware, it does have its uses. I use it for frittate and crespelle but also for this sort of chicken sauté. Chicken skin has an awful tendency to stick to the bottom of just about any other kind of cookware. I’ve grown quite fond of Le Creuset’s hardened non-stick cookware. Their sauté pan worked beautifully for this dish.* Do be aware, however, that there are some trade offs using nonstick. For one thing, you lose that fond that lends so much depth of flavor to the pan juices.
If you prefer not to use non-stick, then make sure to pre-heat your skillet or sauté pan before you start cooking. Preheating a pan causes the metal to expand, closing the pores and creating a smooth cooking surface to which food shouldn’t stick. You know you’ve got the right temperature when a drop of water will stay intact and move around the pan like a ball of mercury. Even so, the skin may still stick a bit (it always does for me) but if you’re patient—and lucky—after a few minutes the chicken should release from the bottom of the pan. And if all else fails, get out your metal spatula…
* Post scriptum: I know what some of you are thinking, but nope, I’m not getting paid by either D’Artagnan or Le Creuset. I haven’t gone back on my resolve on not monetizing the blog. I’m just sharing my (positive) experiences with you, dear reader. Free of charge!
Pollo in padella
- 2 chickens cut into serving pieces
- 2-3 garlic cloves slightly crushed and peeled
- A sprig of rosemary
- A bay leaf
- Olive oil
- salt and pepper
- In a non-stick sauté pan or covered skillet large enough to hold all the chicken pieces, gently sauté the garlic cloves, rosemary and bay leaf in the olive oil, just until the ingredient give off their aroma and the garlic is just starting to brown. Remove.
- Turn up the heat to a moderate flame and add the chicken pieces. Brown them well on all sides, which should take about 10-15 minutes. Keep the pieces well spaced to ensure proper browning, proceeding in batches if necessary.
- Once all the chicken pieces are well browned, season them well with salt and pepper, turning them so that they have seasoning on all sides. Now add a good splash of white wine, again turning the pieces as the wine evaporates.
- After a couple of minutes, the wine should be well reduced (but not entirely evaporated) and have lost its alcohol. Lower the heat and cover the pan. Let the chicken pieces simmer for about 15-20 minutes further, turning from time to time, until they are cooked through and perfectly tender.
- Add liquid (either more wine or water) if things dry out during the simmer. If you find that the chicken has given off a lot of liquid during the simmer, turn up the heat and boil off the excess. You should wind up with ample but well-reduced and intensely flavored pan juices.
- Serve the chicken pieces right away, napped with their pan juices, which are especially delicious drizzled over mashed potatoes.
Can I make this earlier in the day and reheat for dinner?
Sure, no problem. Might even taste better! I’d just add a drizzle of water or wine when you reheat it to revive the sauce.
your website is a revelation for me. Such beauty and simplicity.
this dish is phenomenal.
Thanks so much, Dan!
I would like to second Stefano”s compliment, your blog is excellent. By the way, I like it when you are very specific about pans and ingredients. Knowing exactly what kind of pan or what kind of oil is very helpful.
Thanks so much for the kind words, Rick. Choosing the right pan is so important I’m surprised when recipes don’t specify!
Well, as soon as I read that thighs and legs was the way to go, I was all in. Although I find myself having to eat the lower fat breast these day, I much prefer the dark meat. I love recipes like this that are made with simple ingredients and result in a great dish. I also like the idea of making it with rabbit. We’re a couple months from getting fresh rabbit, but I will try this when we do…
I’m definitely with you on the dark meat, Ron! And I agree rabbit would be delicious made this way. I’d try it myself but that animal rarely makes an appearance on our table due to a certain sensitive soul who had a pet rabbit as a child…
I made this for dinner last night and it was DIVINE!! Thank you for another wonderfully simple and delicious recipe!
Awesome! So glad you liked the dish. 🙂
I could just smell this dish cooking as I was reading your blog, such a wonderful and simple meal. I don’t like non-stick either but definitely see the benefit for a dish such a this. This will be a wonderful addition to my repertoire.
I’m sure you’re enjoy it, Eva!
Such perfect Italian simplicity! Your blog is definitely an online Italian cookbook, and I love seeing the more peasanty recipes.
Thanks, Mimi! You’re too kind. 🙂
Ah, better late than never for sure! I’ve done the same thing a few times over the years – assume that an old family favorite is somewhere in the blog archives only to search for it and nada. Glad you added this one to the cookbook, Frank! It sounds like an easy and delicious recipe…even if I have to clean my stovetop a bit afterwards! 🙂
Yep, the clean up is a real pain. But worth it! 🙂
Frank…this is how to make a really tasty, easy chicken dish! Might I add that this is how I’ve been cooking rabbit for a few years. Of course, what with the advent of the Stanley programmes, I know I’m going to have to try out that method of cooking rabbit! We do have an Italian butcher a couple of miles away who always have rabbit (shown with the liver of course). Chicken here tonight with Castelvetrano olives, capers a bit of tomato, white wine and garlic of course! Happy weekend Frank!
This is great with rabbit, too. For better or worse, rabbit is a “controversial” meat in this house, so I rarely indulge these days. And that chicken dish sounds divine… !
On my list for the coming week. Love the simplicity of it — and how delicious just those few ingredients can be. 🙂 ~Valentina
Amazing, isn’t it?
Always on the lookout for yet another ‘new’ recipe have not ‘simply’ prepared this beauty for a long time ! Thank you for the reminder and the memory that chicken was basically always cooked this way way back 🙂 ! Living alone and at the moment usually cooking for one I do usually buy thighs and Marylands but am lucky to have an organic source . . . looking again . . . yum . . . yes !
It is a dish that you can forget for a long while as you explore more recherché dishes, just as I did. But it’s so very good I’m happy to come home, so to speak, once in a while. Lucky you to have a source of good poultry near by!
So beautiful and so simple. Truly appreciate every single recipe you published ! 🙂
Thank you so much for the kind words! 🥰
D’Artagnan sells good stuff. Haven’t tried their chicken — now I want to. Anyway, simple recipes like this are often the best. Julia Child has a lot of recipes for sauted chicken that most cooks probably haven’t tried — simply because chicken is so ordinary these days, and it wasn’t when we were kids (or at least when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s). Your recipe looks terrific. I go back and forth with my feeling on non-stick skillets. They’re definitely convenient, and you can use less cooking fat in them. And I use them more often than not. Still . . . 🙂 Anyway, good stuff — thanks.
You’re right. I’m old enough to remember, too. These days not many people realize that chickens were fancy food back in the day. There was a reason roast chicken was a Sunday dish.
And yes, nonstick pans definitely have their pros and cons. I seem to go through cycles when I use them all the time, then not so much. Not great for searing and such, but a real godsend for dishes like this one. I do like a well-seasoned carbon steel pan, too, but they’re no use for dishes that call for wine, like this one, or for tomato, which eliminates a good percentage of the food I like to make!
It’s always good to have another recipe to write! Sounds delicious – less is definitely more.
Couldn’t agree more!
Now I see what you were talking about when you come in at on my post last week. Hard to believe we missed some of the most obvious recipes, isn’t it? This looks absolutely wonderful, Frank, and – as you said – simple and toothsome. I am only buying fresh chickens from the farmers market now, which makes such a difference with flavor. Like Stefano, I dry out the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for a day which really does reduce the spattering. Mark and I will be trying this very soon… Thanks for all the work you do to bring us this amazing cookbook.
That fridge method sounds promising. My only problem is it requires something like foresight.. And I usually don’t decide what I want to make for dinner (or lunch) until about 30 minutes before we’re going to eat, lol!
I love pollo in padella. I make a similar recipe adding some hot chili pepper and mustard. It is really very yummy. I will try your recipe Frank! Thanks for sharing. Buon weekend, Paola
That also sounds very nice, Paola. I’m always up for a little spice. Will give it a try next time.
Bravo, Frank! 600 recipes, and every one of them is authentic!
Thanks so much. You’re too kind! 🙂
first of all: I think I express what many of us think: this baby of yours, Frank, is indeed one of the best resources for Italian cooking and it is a great “cookbook”
on bleeping splattering chicken skin: I used to salt the pieces, then leave them overnite in the fridge, UNCOVERED. This dry out the skin a lot.
on this chicken: of course, it is good (and it works also, with more liquid and fat, for rabbit), can I add bay leaves, and a lot of them, as a flavoursome base? (Hazan has actually a lovely chicken with bay leaves and possibly some vinegar, cannot remember, in Marcella Cucina). I do not eat chicken almost any more, but I remember that recipe being wonderful
Thanks really kind of you to say, Stefano. It means a lot, especially coming from you. 🙂 And your suggestion about drying out the skin overnight is one I definitely will try in the future, assuming I have sufficient foresight to know what I’m cooking the next day. To be honest, I usually decide on the spot!
Hazan recipe actually sounds very familiar. I’ll going to check out Marcella Cucina, although I want to say it was in one of her earlier books? I seem to remember that being one of the first recipes of hers that I read about. But who knows, my memory isn’t what it used to be… !