Pollo e Patate alla Nonna Erminia
In my family, favourite 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 are 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.
Basic 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, divided
- 1 pound red bliss potatoes, preferably no bigger than 2 inches across
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or more
- 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered lengthwise
- 2 short branches of fresh rosemary with plenty of needles
Special Touches (Optional)
- 4 to 6 ounces sliced bacon (5 or 6 slices)
- 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 2 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 skin side down, an inch or so apart—watch out for oil spatters. Don’t crowd the chicken: if necessary fry it in batches, similar pieces (like drumsticks) together.
Drop the bacon roll-ups into the oil around the chicken, turning and shifting them often. Let the chicken fry in place for several minutes to brown on the underside, then turn and continue frying until they are golden brown on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes or more. Fry breast pieces, only for 5 or so minutes, taking them out of the oil with tongs as soon as they are golden. Let the bacon roll-ups cook and get lightly crisp, but not dark, taking them out as they are done cooking. Adjust the heat to maintain steady sizzling and coloring.
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 oil out of the mixing bowl into the skillet; drizzle over 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 are 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, add the onion wedges and rosemary branches to the pan with the potatoes and toss the ingredients around the pan. 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 roll-ups; 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 are 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.
Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 7 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, then uncover and toss all the ingredients again. Cover and cook another 7 minutes or so, adding the breast pieces at this point. Give everything another toss. 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 bring it right to the table.
Serve portions of chicken and potatoes, or let people help themselves.