This dish is all about the sauce. It is a simple one-pan wonder of complex flavors that you will have a hard time not making again and again.
This recipe is very close to my heart, and I have been cooking different versions of it at all of the stops in my culinary career.
I learned this dish during my first sous chef job at a restaurant in downtown San Francisco called Splendido. It was 1994, and I was working for Giovanni Perticone, an excellent 30-year-old chef from Rome.
Giovanni had bleached white, perfect hair, and wore bright red shoes in the kitchen. He loved the ladies, played as hard as he worked, and was a tireless presence in the kitchen.
There were days when I would show up at 10 am to start my lunch service preparations, and Giovanni, looking worse for the wear, would be standing over the prep sink cracking open raw clams, dousing them with Tabasco, and popping them in his mouth like a kid eating popcorn. He informed me that this was the best cure for a hangover.
Giovanni was generous and kind with his food knowledge. His food IQ was remarkable and surprising for his age. He had a photographic mind and knew every fact about anything you could possibly eat. Giovanni knew things like where obscure fish migrated to lay eggs, what heirloom pigs ate in Spain, and how the cooking times of arborio rice differed according to where it was grown.
He made simple, delicious, beautiful-looking food and was well known for his risottos. I had to cook for him as part of my tryout for the sous chef position. Being a cocky 23-year-old, of course, I decided to make risotto. I knew that the one thing I couldn’t do was make a pile of risotto in a bowl. It had to be flat on a plate and al dente. I remember putting a bunch of stuff in the rice: duck confit, fennel, onion, and too much thyme. From across the kitchen, I watched Giovanni take a bite. He laughed to himself and pushed the plate away.
I started packing my knives and was about to change into my street clothes, feeling like I just wanted to run when he motioned me to come to the table. He spoke very quickly in his thick Roman accent. I don’t remember the exact words, but essentially he told me that the risotto sucked but was correctly cooked. Gio was impressed that I chose to make risotto for him. (He used a term that includes a part of the male anatomy insinuating that I had a large pair of them.) He hired me on the spot.
My daily education from Giovanni would often end with late nights at his flat in North Beach. He gave lessons not out of cookbooks but out of his stacks of coffee-table-style books on architecture and fine art. Many bottles of Barolo accompanied these lessons, as well as incredibly fresh oysters and clams that he claimed: “could never be served the next day.”
The two years I spent at Splendido cemented my career choice. It made me realize that this would be a lifelong pursuit of a taxing but joyous craft that knew no bounds.
The Chicken Thighs
Getting back to this recipe, Giovanni did this dish with fresh poussin and served it with mashed potatoes finished with Crème Fraîche, minced, cured lemon, and chives. I recommend using fresh poussin (a young chicken usually cooked whole) if you can find it, but chicken thighs also work very well.
This dish easily transfers from professional chef to the home cook as it just takes one pan. I prefer a Dutch oven because the high sides will reduce the splatter when you sear the chicken, and finishing the dish in the oven requires a lid.
I love mashed potatoes as an accompaniment because nothing goes better with a killer saucy dish. If you want to finish the potatoes with some lemon zest and chives, I’m sure Giovanni would approve.
Sadly, about seven years after I left Splendido, Giovanni was diagnosed with cancer. He moved back to Rome to be with his family and passed away soon after.
Giovanni still lives in my heart and through my food. Keep checking back to Intuitive Gourmet for more Giovanni-inspired dishes.