Like Proust’s famous madeleine, food evokes memories, quite literally the taste of a past experience. For me, the most redolent food is Potato Chip Chicken, which in my family was originally known as Garlic Chicken for the single clove of garlic used in its preparation.
My mother made garlic chicken every Friday night for Shabbos dinner, along with baked potatoes, chicken soup, and gefilte fish. This was my favorite meal. Shabbos was the one time my whole family was around the table together; other nights my father worked late. These dinners were filled with ceremony: blessings and handwashing and ritual foods like wine and challah. For me, the eating of the Garlic Chicken was one of those sacred rites.
On rare occasion, my mother replaced the Garlic Chicken with a second chicken dish, Chicken Naranja, a dish marinated with red onions, ginger, soy sauce and orange juice concentrate—a dish I now cook and enjoy but which was then a bitter disappointment.
I’d never thought twice about the original name of this dish: Garlic Chicken. That is, until I was twenty-seven and met my husband and made him a home-cooked meal. When I brought the chicken to the table, he looked surprised, confused even. Scanning the dish, he asked quite reasonably, why is this recipe named for garlic when there’s only one chopped-up clove? Wouldn't Potato Chip Chicken make more sense? It was as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes, on par with the time he’d noted my father putting on tefillin to pray in the morning, and had asked, why is your father wrapping himself in black leather straps? I’d never before thought about how fetishistic tefillin could look to someone who hadn’t grown up religiously observant.
Garlic/Potato Chip Chicken continues to be a part of my life. My mother makes it on my birthday, and I bake it, too. Invite me to a picnic, and it is likely the dish I will bring. Over the years, I’ve made some tweaks to the original family recipe, which originally called for an entire stick of margarine. The first time I served Potato Chip Chicken to my two daughters, I remember thinking, the cycle is now complete. I brought it to the table with great fanfare, announcing dramatically, you are in for such a treat, you are going to LOVE this. Sadly, it was not quite the momentous occasion I thought it would be. They do like it, but it’s not their favorite.
I try to drop in a reference to Potato Chip Chicken in most every chapter of the book I am writing. It's a memoir, in part, about how childhood faith and ritual continue to run through my life though often in a reinvented way. I see the chicken as a reassuring leitmotif, kind of like the mouse that crops up on every page of Goodnight Moon.
Now you, dear reader, can make and enjoy this dish on your own. It's super-easy to prepare. I've even included a short video tutorial on the assembly-line technique I use to prepare it. Potato Chip Chicken. Garlic Chicken. Call it whatever you like.
· 1 whole chicken cut up in eighths with the fatty skin removed ( You can replace whole chicken with whatever pieces you most enjoy. Drumsticks and wings, great! Breasts, good for you! Thigh and drumstick, delicious, too!)
· 1 5.75-ounce bag of barbecue potato chips
· 1 cup of breadcrumbs (These can be flavored, unflavored, Panko, whatever.)
· 3 cloves of garlic minced
· ½ cup of cooking oil (I use olive oil, but canola, corn, or another vegetable oil will work)
About the Potato Chips:
The potato chips MUST be barbecue potato chips. Do NOT use honey barbecue or hot ranch barbecue or any other fancy flavor. In my experience, WISE Barbecue Potato Chips are the best and my recommended potato chip for this dish.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cooking pan or sheet with tin foil.
2. Heat oil at low temperature on the stovetop in a small saucepan. Add the garlic, when oil is hot and brown just slightly. Place to side to cool a bit.
3. In a large bowl, pour the bag of potato chips and the breadcrumbs. Crush into little pieces with your hands.
4. Create an assembly line: First, plate with the chicken; second. oil with garlic; third, potato chips with breadcrumbs; fourth, the tin-foil-lined baking pan/sheet. Take piece of chicken, dip into oil so all sides are immersed, then dip chicken piece into breadcrumbs and coat liberally. Put on baking sheet. Continue till all of the pieces are coated and ready.
5. Place in oven and cook for one hour.