I was fortunate enough to be selected for a crazy week-long retreat at work late last year. Normally, I hear the words "work retreat" and start shivering with cynicism. I hate the touchy feely crap and can't stand networking. My beautiful friend Melanie had possibly the worst experience at one event. She was stuck with women she didn't really gel with and had completely run out of questions for a totally bland companion. "Emma", she told me, "I asked her if she liked sports. Sports, Emma."
I went and was surprised. It was amazing. I was challenged physically, emotionally, professionally. There was one aspect I don't think I'll ever forget. We made the trek out to a gorgeous wooded area. The trees were tall and connected by a series of ropes. This did not bode well for someone with a deathly fear of heights.
I can't stand on a chair without my knees shaking. Of course, we weren't invited to this retreat to drink cups of tea and nitter natter about synergy" and core competencies all day long. I was expected to climb this gigantic tree and wander out across some flimsy ropes, meet your climbing buddy and get down again. Getting down's the easy part right, Emma? You do it in the club every Saturday night. Um no. Getting down involved dropping. Yep. Just falling backwards and relying on these dudes holding my ropes to make sure my spine was in tact when I reached the ground.
It was not my finest hour. On the way up, I climbed three steps, stopped and cried. This repeated continually until I reached the ropes at the top. Every time I opened my eyes, it was as though the trees were rushing in at me. I was freaking the fuck out (I'd say excuse my French, but let's be real here: this calls from some expletives).
It might have taken about 45 minutes, but I did it. I even did the falling into space thing. I made it to solid ground and kind of cried and laughed like a psychopath for about two hours. I was shaking for the rest of the day and couldn't sleep. I learned one thing on that retreat. Climbing trees is not for the faint of heart.
In the same way climbing trees makes me a bit weak at the knees, a dish with more than four cloves of garlic is a bit concerning. Then you do a double take and you realise it says forty. Four zero. Holy shitballs.
I won't sugar coat it. This is mega garlic. Defcon five garlic. But at the same time, it's velvety, smooth and comforting. It's not that acrid taste that you can get with excess garlic. This is sexy dish. But crazy sexy, like a lady who looks the business but could take her top off and start krumping at any given moment.
Oh, and I'm sure you understand what I mean when I say this is a dish you eat with people you are very comfortable with. You need to be a good two years into a relationship before you pull out this whopper. It's effects are strong and long lasting. Please don't underestimate this dish.
All that said, you never get the great rewards without trying something daring. Forty cloves of garlic is pretty OTT but this is a beautiful, complex dish. I'd like to say climbing a tree was beautiful and complex but I think it would be more accurate to say terrifying and sweaty. But more high fives in the end.
Adapted from Helen Rosner for Saveur
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
40 cloves of garlic, peeled (about 3 to 4 heads)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
8 sprigs thyme
Heat a large heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Melt the butter and olive oil and add half the chicken to the pan. Brown well, turning once and repeat with the remaining pieces. Remove from the saucepan and add the garlic. Saute until golden brown.
Remove the garlic from the pan and add the white wine. Stir to pick up all the crusty brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine by two thirds and add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and add the chicken and garlic, as well as the thyme. Mash around half the garlic into the sauce. Reduce to a simmer and cook for around 30 minutes over medium heat.
Serve with some creamy mashed potatoes and a green salad.