Sitting around the table last night with gusts of strong breath coloring our domestic atmosphere, Amy and I were considering the profound effect garlic has on Spanish cuisine, and we wondered aloud whether any other national cuisine makes such abundant and varied use of the perfumed rose. Certainly, French and Italian food incorporate garlic with spectacular results, as do Greek, most other Mediterranean cuisines, as well as Chinese and Indian, but if there’s a cuisine that, to us, is characterized by garlic, it’s Spanish.
All of which is great, unless you happened to be sitting next to us this morning on the subway, as last night we ate two of the most highly odoriferous dishes in the Iberian canon – patatas a lo pobre and pollo al ajillo. The humble, peasant roots of both these dishes (the former translating as poor man’s potatoes) rely heavily on large quantities of garlic to elevate the otherwise prosaic ingredients to a higher plane. The garlic somehow acts both as a spice and an acid, flavoring the dish while simultaneously cutting through and balancing the olive oil.
We recommend you make enough of both these dishes to share, not just because they make delicious tapas-style small plates, but because you’ll want to surround yourself with similarly pungent folk to avoid people covering their faces and shuffling away down the train as if you had the plague. On the other hand, you do far worse than gain a little extra personal space in this congested city of ours. Maybe we’ve hit on a smart new commuting tactic?
- 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large Idaho (or other starchy variety) potatoes, sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced or very finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme, rosemary and/or sage
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Heat oil in a large skillet or frying pan to medium-high and add sliced potatoes in layers
- Sprinkle each layer with salt and turn to coat with oil.
- Lower heat to medium-low and, turning occasionally, cook potatoes for about twenty minutes or until they start to get golden brown.
- Toss in garlic and herbs and allow to perfume the air.
- KIll heat and shaking off excess oil remove potatoes to a serving plate and enjoy with other garlicky dishes.
Chicken in Garlic-Brandy Sauce – Pollo al Ajillo (serves 2 as racione, 4 as a tapa)
- 1lb chicken (breast, legs, wings are all good), cut into 2inch chunks – use a cleaver
- 1/2 head garlic, chopped finely
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 good tablespoons brandy
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Heat oil in a large skillet or frying pan to medium-high and add seasoned chicken chunks
- Allow to brown really well on all sides – at least 8 minutes
- Add garlic and after 30 seconds, hit pan with brandy
- Very carefully allow brandy to ignite and stand back
- When fire has gone out, stir contents and put a close-fitting lid on pan and cook covered for five minutes.
- Kill heat, stir in parsley, and serve immediately with bread and wine, surrounded by garlic lovers.