In my family, favorite dishes are always being altered according to what is available and what is best — especially when I’m cooking. Here’s a perfect example: chicken and potatoes, fried together in a big skillet so they’re crisp and moist at the same time, is my mother’s specialty. Growing up, my brother and I demanded it every week; our kids, Tanya and Joe and Eric, Paul and Estelle, clamored for it too. And now the next generation of little ones are asking their great-grandmother to make chicken and potatoes for them.
When I am at the stove I follow my mother’s basic procedures, though I can’t resist playing around. Some days I add sausage to the recipe, or capers or olives; I might douse the chicken with a splash of vinegar; sometimes I cut up a whole chicken, other times I’ll split little poussins or Cornish hens. (You can see what experiments have worked well if you look through my previous books.)
This recipe, though, gives you Erminia’s classic formula — chicken, small potatoes, a bit of onion, and rosemary leaves—with two of my latest twists: pickled cherry peppers and bacon strips, in bite-sized rolls. Cherry peppers are plump golf-ball-sized antipasto peppers in vinegar that you’ll find in jars on the pickle shelves of the supermarket. They come in sweet and hot varieties—and the latter are explosive, if you take just a bite. But when they’re seeded, sliced, and added sparingly to the chicken, they imbue the dish with a mellow heat that I love. If you and your family are hot heads, cut up two or more peppers; otherwise slice only one, or use the sweet cherry peppers and see how you like that. Then we roll bacon slices into little bundles, pin each one closed with a toothpick, and caramelize them along with the chicken. The bacon fat slowly renders and lends the meat a layer of flavor that’s picked up by the potatoes and onions too. By the end of cooking, the rolls have turned into crisp morsels that are a treat to eat with the juicy chicken and tender potatoes. (But be sure to remove all the toothpicks!)–Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
LC By Heart Note
This, our dear reader, is one of those rare recipes that you easily come to learn by heart. It’s also one of those rare recipes that you quickly come to appreciate with all your heart given how simple, satiating, yet versatile it can be. (Hey, we can get sentimental if we want!)
My Mother’s Chicken and Potatoes
- 2 1/2 pounds chicken legs or assorted pieces (bone-in)
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste
- 1 pound red bliss potatoes preferably no bigger than 2 inches across
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or more
- 2 medium-small onions peeled and quartered lengthwise
- 2 short branches rosemary with plenty of needles
- 4 to 6 ounces sliced bacon 5 or 6 slices (optional)
- 1 or 2 pickled cherry peppers sweet or hot, or none– or more!–cut in half and seeded (optional)
- Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off excess skin and all visible fat. Cut the drumsticks from the thighs. If using breast halves, cut into two small pieces.
- Make the bacon roll-ups: Cut the bacon slices in half crosswise and roll each strip into a neat, tight cylinder. Stick a toothpick through the roll to secure it; cut or break the toothpick so only a tiny bit sticks out (allowing the bacon to roll around and cook evenly).
- Pour the canola oil into the skillet and set over high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt on all sides. When the oil is very hot, lay the pieces in it, skin side down, an inch or so apart — watch out for oil spatters. Don’t crowd the chicken: if necessary, fry it in batches, with similar pieces (like drumsticks) together.
- Drop the bacon rolls into the oil around the chicken, turning and shifting them often. Let the chicken pieces fry in place for several minutes to brown on the underside, then turn and continue frying until they’re golden brown on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes or more. Fry breast pieces only for 5 minutes or so, taking them out of the oil as soon as they are golden. Let the bacon rolls cook and get lightly crisp, but not dark. Adjust the heat to maintain steady sizzling and coloring; remove the crisped chicken pieces with tongs to a bowl.
- Meanwhile, rinse and dry the potatoes; slice each one through the middle on the axis that gives the largest cut surface, then toss them with the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. When all the chicken and bacon is cooked and out of the skillet, pour off the frying oil. Return the skillet to medium heat and put in all the potatoes, cut side down in a single layer, into the hot pan. With a spatula, scrape all the olive oil out of the mixing bowl into the skillet; drizzle in a bit more oil if the pan seems dry. Fry and crisp the potatoes for about 4 minutes to form a crust, then move them around the pan, still cut side down, until they’re all brown and crisp, 7 minutes or more. Turn them over, and fry another 2 minutes to cook and crisp on their rounded skin sides.
- Still over medium heat, toss the onion wedges and rosemary branches around the pan, in with the potatoes. If using cherry peppers (either hot or sweet), cut the seeded halves into 1/2-inch-wide pieces and scatter them in the pan too.
- Return the chicken pieces, except breast pieces, to the pan, along with the bacon rolls; pour in any chicken juices that have accumulated. Raise the heat slightly, and carefully turn and tumble the chicken, potatoes, and onion (and bacon and/or pepper pieces), so they’re heating and getting coated with pan juices — but take care not to break the potato pieces. Spread everything out in the pan — potatoes on the bottom as much as possible, to keep crisping up — and cover.
- Return the heat to medium, and cook for about 7 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, then uncover, and tumble the pieces and potatoes (and bacon rolls) again. Cover, and cook another 7 minutes or so, adding the breast pieces at this point. Give everything another tumble. Now cook covered for 10 minutes more.
- Remove the cover, turn the pieces again, and cook in the open skillet for about 10 minutes, to evaporate the moisture and caramelize everything. Taste a bit of potato (or chicken) for salt, and sprinkle on more as needed. Turn the pieces now and then; when they are all glistening and golden, and the potatoes are cooked through, remove the skillet from the stove and — as I do at home — bring it right to the table. Serve portions of chicken and potatoes, or let people help themselves.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I used bone-in chicken breasts and, since it only took 2 breasts, I cut each into thirds. This fed 5 of us with no leftovers. There was a comment from someone that they wished there were more potatoes, but 1 pound took up the entire bottom of my frying pan. I did use the bacon rolls and I would not recommend leaving these out as it adds that little extra flavor boost. There wasn’t a strong rosemary flavor, but you could taste it in the potatoes more than anything else. I did not add the cherry peppers because I forgot to pick them up at the store. If you took a little bite of everything (chicken, potatoes, bacon, and onions) all at once, you had a flavor explosion in your mouth. I will make this again but I will season the chicken with a little more salt and add some pepper.
This recipe is a bit time consuming but it is worth EVERY moment. I used a cast iron skillet and followed the recipe exactly. This is as hearty a chicken dish as I’ve ever eaten. Honestly, Mamma’s Chicken and Potatoes can compete with ANY steak or beef dinner. Lidia stole my heart with this one….
Originally published January 03, 2010