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Still Life with Chicken, Pigeon, and Grapes, from the workshop of Giovanni Agostino Cassano.

Recipe below: Oven-Seared Chicken with Grapes, Rosemary, and Grappa

Have you noticed how often the only herbs at health food stores are dill and cilantro? Is that all those people cook with? Why? I guess Asian-type food is the only type they consider legit, but what’s with the dill? And what about the Mediterranean diet, the best diet of all? Is there something unhealthy about rosemary or thyme or oregano? I wish someone would explain this to me.

And speaking of rosemary, it’s an herb I can predictably find in supermarkets in the winter, and usually in pretty good shape. I’m really glad, because it’s one of my favorites. Many others—ones I’ve been having Covid dreams about, such as lemon verbena, lovage, nepitella, summer savory, wild fennel, marjoram, and good Genovese basil—I can’t actually smell and cook with until they burst forth in my garden (and at my Greenmarket) again in late spring. Supermarket basil is the pits. I wouldn’t make pesto with that crusty cat piss stuff if my life depended on it (well, maybe if my life depended on it, but I’d be embarrassed to serve it to anyone).

Lately I’ve been cooking with lots of supermarket rosemary. It’s a solid winter herb, so good in meat stews, braises, and ragus for pasta, or with mushrooms or cauliflower or cabbage, or floated on a gin martini. A few weeks ago I made a sautéed chicken with grapes and rosemary and lots of blanched garlic. I loved the mix of flavors, especially when I deglazed the whole thing with grappa at the end, which gave it a nice boozy anchor. So when I decided to have a largish group over for dinner the other night, I thought I’d make that very good dish again, while doing it in a less fussy way. I scrapped the sauté pans and arranged all my ingredients on a sheet pan (not all at the same time, but you’ll see my process in the recipe). I don’t always love writing recipes for sheet pan suppers, because some people want all the ingredients to miraculously cook to perfection all at the same time, and that sadly doesn’t happen. With a little timing, the chicken came out beautifully, and I even got a better sauce with the sheet pan approach than with the oil-sputtering sauté. I made a cooked-down grape syrup with chicken essence and garlic and rosemary, all loosened up at the last minute with a big splash of grappa. I love it when all my flavors come together, especially in a winter dish like this one.

I served it with wild rice I got from Rancho Gordo. That was just the thing to soak up all the grapey juices.

You can double the recipe for a larger group. Just use two sheet pans.

Oven-Seared Chicken with Grapes, Rosemary, and Grappa

(Serves 4 or 5)

1 head firm, unsprouted garlic, separated into cloves but left unpeeled
1 cup chicken broth
About 6 rosemary branches, cut into large sprigs
8 chicken thighs, including the skin and bones
Salt
Black pepper
Pimenton d’espelette
Extra-virgin olive oil
A drizzle of rice wine vinegar
1 pound seedless red grapes, half of them picked from the stems, the rest separated into small clusters with the stems left on
¼ cup grappa

Put the garlic cloves into a small saucepan. Add the chicken broth, and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the garlic is just tender, about 8 minutes. Lift the garlic cloves from the broth, keeping the broth.  Peel the garlic cloves.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Smash up 2 of the garlic cloves. Remove and chop up the leaves from 4 of your rosemary sprigs, discarding those sprigs.

Put the chicken thighs in a bowl, and scatter on the smashed garlic and the chopped rosemary leaves. Season with salt, black pepper, and some espelette. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil, and sprinkle on the rice wine vinegar. Toss well. Lay out the chicken, skin side up, on a large sheet pan, leaving some space between the pieces.

Stick it in the oven, and roast it for about 15 minutes. Pull out the pan and add the grapes, the remaining garlic cloves, and the remaining rosemary sprigs, tucking them all in around the chicken pieces. Drizzle the grapes and herbs with a little olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper.

Put the pan back in the oven, and continue roasting until the chicken is well browned and just tender and the grapes have given off some juice, about another 15 minutes or so. Next splash on the grappa, and let everything roast for a few minutes longer, just to burn off the grappa fumes.

Take the pan from the oven and put the chicken thighs on a big serving platter.

If the pan liquid seems loose, and mine did a little, cook it down, along with all the grapes, garlic, and herb sprigs, over a burner. I did this simply by placing the sheet pan over the flame. Let the liquid bubble down for a few minutes to thicken it up. If, on the other hand, you don’t have enough liquid (I suppose it’s possible if your grapes didn’t explode enough), you can add a little of the garlic poaching broth to the pan. If not, you can do what I did and just drink the broth. It’s a restorative.

Arrange the grapes, rosemary, and garlic around and over the chicken pieces, and then pour on the pan sauce. Season with a little more of the espelette. Serve right away.

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