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.