Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.
Is Chicken Vesuvio Scorching Hot?
When I told my husband that I was preparing a new dish, Chicken Vesuvio, his little geologist mind immediately thought of the smoldering flanks of Mount Vesuvius, molten lava and pyroclastic debris spewing thousands of miles—in other words, hot stuff. Is this Italian chicken dish a candidate for Man vs. Food? No, not at all. Allow me to explain.
So, What Is It, Really?
Chicken Vesuvio is a Chicago specialty, an Italian-American dish of succulent chicken on the bone, pan-roasted potatoes, herbs, an ample amount of fragrant sweet garlic and a buttery wine sauce. No one knows when or where the dish originated, but it's so popular that everyone wants that claim to fame. Some suggest it might have been popularized by the Vesuvio Restaurant in the 1930s. Other food historians have suggested that variants of this dish can be found in southern Italy. However, the where isn't really important; let's learn how to make it.
What Are the Components?
Of course, there is chicken. The original dish uses skin-on, bone-in cuts (usually thighs or legs), and there's a good reason for that. The dish is oven-roasted; dark meat can stand up to that method of cooking. Subject lean chicken breast to the same treatment and it will turn dry and flavorless.
There are three basic types of potatoes—waxy red potatoes, multi-purpose Yukon golds, and the Idaho russet baking potato. You could use any of those in this dish, but I believe that the very best is the Yukon gold. Waxy red potatoes keep their shape but never attain the creamy interior you desire in an oven-roasted potato. Russets are the perfect baking potato but take longer to achieve that fluffy interior. The Yukon gives us the best of both worlds—it keeps its shape, cooks in a shorter amount of time, and gets crisp on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside.
The traditional veggie addition to Chicken Vesuvius is green peas. A few cooks substitute artichoke hearts, but I don't like their gray-green color. Mushrooms sound like a reasonable addition, but they act like little sponges, sopping up every ounce of luscious sauce. I recommend sticking with the traditional pop of color offered by frozen green peas.
Yield: 2 generous servings
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- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
- salt and pepper
- 3 small- to medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
- 6 garlic cloves cut in half
- 1 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- minced fresh parsley for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Start with a large (12-inch or more) saute pan that has a lid and is oven safe. Add the olive oil to the pan and heat on your stovetop; adjust the heat to medium.
- Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Place skin-side down in the saute pan and cook, undisturbed for 4 minutes. Trust me; don't move them around. The chicken will develop a nice golden color on the skin side and will start to build up "fond" in the bottom of the pan. (Fond is the little bits that stick to the pan. Add acid to the pan to liquefy them and they will become part of the future sauce for your dish).
- After 4 minutes, flip the chicken thighs over and cook for another 3 minutes. No, they won't be cooked through. That will happen in the oven. Remove them from the pan to a bowl and set aside.
- Next, add the halved potatoes to the same pan. Start with the cut-side down. Flip after 4 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Cover the pan and cook 3-4 minutes more or until a knife can almost slip into each potato. They won't be "done" but will not be rock-hard. Remove from the pan and place them in the bowl with chicken.
- Add the garlic cloves to pan. Saute 2 minutes; just enough to color but not soften. That also will happen in the oven.
- At this point remove any remaining oil from the pan and return the pan to medium-high heat. Add 1 cup dry white wine. Reduce by half (about 3 minutes). Return the chicken, potatoes, and garlic to the pan. Add 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Pour in 1 cup of chicken stock.
- Roast covered in the oven for 45 minutes.
- Remove the chicken and potatoes from the pan and set aside to keep warm. At this time I feel that I must caution you to wrap a kitchen towel or something around the handle of the saute pan to remind you that "this thing is stinking hot!"
- Mash/smash the whole garlic cloves into the liquid that remains in the pan. They should be extremely soft.
- Add the butter to the pan and swirl gently to blend the butter into the liquid left in the pan to make a sauce. Return the chicken and potatoes to the pan, top with the thawed peas. Cover with the lid for 3-4 minutes to warm the peas. Garnish with parsley and serve.
© 2020 Linda Lum