Last week I had lunch with a friend who shared a celebrity sighting story. Walking toward their hotel room in Boulder she came face to face with Alec Baldwin!!! Fun. Plus, to actually make it more fun, Alec Baldwin was really nice- he leaned down and made small talk with my friend’s really young son and they proceeded to take pictures together. I am not questioning the excitement one may feel meeting Alec Baldwin- I like him too and I too would be excited. But, my personal favorite celebrity sighting story goes much different and needs a little background information.
Our last visit to San Francisco, last summer, coincided with the 38th anniversary of the beloved Chez Panisse restaurant. We made a dinner reservation for the café and were excited to be there 38th years after Chez Panisse first opened its doors. We love the café- a little more informal and looser as far as dinner choices, but maintaining the integrity and philosophy that the love of my cooking-life, Alice Waters, nurtured over so many years.
Need I say it? I love Alice Waters. I could write a book about all the reasons I love her. I know I am not alone. I realize it is not original. I don’t care. I still love her. I find her life and career to be motivating and inspiring. And I adore her dedication to teaching children to eat right.
It was a Friday night at the end of August. Unusually for this time of the year, San Francisco was suffering from a serious heat wave. The sun was shining hot on Berkley all day and the little old house on Shattuck Street housing Chez Panisse, like many other old houses in San Francisco, is simply not equipped to handle that. Read- no air conditioning.
Although evening, it was still very warm outside and the café at Chez Panisse is upstairs. Little known fact I learned from living in a loft- ALL of the heat goes upstairs. Well, upstairs we were in probably close to 100 degrees heat, me wearing a cute summer dress that was still too warm for the temperature of the dining room! There is no way around this one- it was ridiculously hot despite the feeble fans that were running in an insignificant effort to provide some relief.
But we were happy. We were there at our little table glancing at this beautiful menu and trying to decide what to eat and what to drink. This post is not about to review the extraordinary meal we had. I will just tell you that we shared a beautiful bottle of Bandol Rosé and graced our taste buds with, among others, a leg of lamb bathed in a heavenly tomatillo sauce.
Next to our table was a friendly couple who seemed to be very familiar and comfortable with the restaurant. At one point, we began to talk about the heat, the food, the restaurant and we all introduced ourselves. The gentleman said- David Goines and my jaw dropped. I did a double take and said, “David Goines!?!?! In like, the Chez Panisse graphics David Goines???” …then thought to myself– David Goines that Alice…that Alice used to date???
[side note: earlier in the summer, after taking the grueling bar exam, I read this book.
I actually highly recommend it as a fun and interesting read. Plus it had pages upon pages on Mr. Goines so I was well familiar]
So, here I was at Chez Panisse with a real icon of this place and in my mind a celebrity of the cooking world! This was amazing. And he was nice and friendly! To make it more amazing, Mr. Goines briefly talked to one of the Chez Panisse staffers and, magically, in about 2 minutes we were presented with a brand new, fresh off the print, anniversary Chez Panisse poster, designed and produced by the man himself-David Goines.
I was ecstatic. So was my husband. I rolled it open to stare at it and, as my husband declared out loud that I have a way with paper, I almost proved him wrong by ineptly rolling the poster back up. I was maybe nervous and happy and excited all at the same time. We carried the poster back to the hotel then back home to Denver with great care. We got it mounted on a steel plate and it has been resting in the entry way of our Taxi loft since early September.
Since that time, I meant to send Mr. Goines a note to thank him and to my (own) chagrin I never did. So right here in the public forum, I would like to say:
This is, for me, the best way to cook chicken legs. Everyone will like them. All of the gristle, veins, small pockets of fat and other faults in the chicken leg disappear in the format and the strengths of this meat- a nice covering of skin and a juicy tender texture- simply shine.
Traditionally, this Italian method of cooking chicken uses a brick to weigh down a whole or half chicken split down the back and allow it to cook and crisp at the same time on the stovetop. Don’t worry- you don’t need a brick. There are ways around that with the stuff you already have in your kitchen. An extra perk of the recipe- the ingredient list is pretty minimal and, aside from the chicken legs, I generally have all of this stuff around anyway.
Ingredients: 4 whole chicken legs; 1 sprig of thyme; 18 garlic cloves (16 peeled and 2 chopped fine); 1 lemon (zest and cut into wedges for juice); 3-4 springs of parsley (chopped finely right before serving); olive oil; salt and pepper. And not that this is an ingredient, but you do need a little parchment paper.
Bone the chicken legs.
First, split the legs into drumsticks and thighs. Then, think of your goal- flat pieces of meat that hold the skin as intact as possible. You are doing surgery on this piece of meat with the goal of removing the bone with as little disturbance to the meat as possible.
Trim the excess fat from the edges, season each piece on both sides with salt and pepper and refrigerate.
[here is a side-note- this part, the boning of the legs is the most time consuming. Alice always recommends curing meats with salt and pepper for a few hours or overnight. I have not done this overnight with chicken legs, but I have done the prep in the morning and cooked the chicken for dinner. It is a nice way to break the cooking time.]
To make the garlic oil (in which you will cook the chicken), heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a small preferably heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the thyme spring and 16 whole peeled garlic cloves. Bring the oil to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and stew slowly for about 15 minutes.
You want the garlic to soften and very slightly color. Remove and reserve the garlic cloves with a slotted spoon. Remove and discard the thyme sprig.
Now the chicken! Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic oil you just made. Add the chicken skin side down.
Focus here- place parchment paper over the chicken then weigh the chicken down with the heaviest pot you find in your kitchen. Improvise of you must by putting whatever pot matches over the chicken and adding inside this pot more weight. The weight though should be as evenly distributed as possible.
Cook for about 15 minutes. Feel free to check occasionally to make sure you are only browning and crisping the skin of the chicken and not charring it black. Adjust the heat if you need to.
Turn the legs over and cook for another 5 minutes uncovered.
In those last 5 minutes of the chicken legs cooking, mix together lemon zest, chopped parsley, chopped garlic.
Remove the chicken legs onto paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Serve the legs on warmed plates. Put a few of the reserved cooked garlic cloves on each leg and sprinkle with the lemon zest-garlic-parsley mixture. Garnish with lemon wedges.
And next time you are in San Francisco, trek your way to Berkley and enjoy Chez Panisse! You never know who you’ll run into.
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