40 Clove Garlic Chicken with Pasta Carbonara — First Thursday Night Smackdown

Michelle, at Thursday Night Smackdown threw a smackdown challenge: Pick a recipe or technique you’ve never tried before, and do it. Christey and I took the challenge to another level, and switched roles. She cooked, and I shot the pictures.(Snarky comments in italics are Christey’s)

Christey cooked 40 clove garlic chicken (yes, 40 cloves of garlic), with a side of fettuccine carbonara. I struggled with a macro lens and had to have my white-balance and strobes set up for me (and film speed, shutter speed, and fstop, but who’s counting ;) ). Between the two of us, we created this:

So, this was definitely a test of theory for me. I’ve always believed cooking to be an art. There are plenty of those who flop back and forth on this idea (coughcough *Ruhlman* coughcough), but though you can teach the standards and theory and support system of cooking to anyone, I truly believe that the major characteristic of art — leading the open-minded recipient into an emotional experience — fits right in with cooking. That’s the whole theme (and climax) to Ratatouille for example, and it’s no surprise that the chef consultant for that movie was none other than Thomas Keller.

Photography is definitely an art, and a lot more fanatically appreciated as such than cooking. There’s also a lot more (IMHO) technical knowledge, both historically, and in modern times with digital SLR and radio-controlled strobes. Christey, fortunately, set my white balance and strobes (and film speed, shutter speed, and fstop, but who’s counting ;) ), and pointed out the basic on the camera. I do have a very Neanderthal understanding of photography, though, and when she offered me a couple lenses, I made a conscious decision to use the macro lens only, purely for the depth-of-field. Depth-of-field is the only thing I really get about photography, other than ISO. She has tried to explain other things like f-stop and aperture, and it really does sail right over my head (*cough*depth-of-field is f-stop*cough*).

We originally wanted to do a 5-question thing for this meal where she could only ask 5 questions about cooking the meal, and I could only ask 5 questions about photography, but we both kept volunteering so much information to each other that we decided to dump that challenge for this particular meal. We’re each a little too invested in our own favorite art. In that vein, I’m writing the post of the meal (and Christey will put in her editorial comments) while Christey is editing my photos.

So, enough preamble. Christey decided to hit two meals, a 40-clove garlic chicken recipe, and a fettuccine carbonara recipe. And, for purists (Purists! Hahah, try fat Americans who LOVE cream, cream and more cream with lots of cheese and BACON!, like me ;) ), Christey was trying for an Italian/Sicilian American version of carbonara. The carbonara we had in Rome and Venice (which I thought was amazing) (and I thought was ewwy ewwy gross) is still quite different from what is considered carbonara in the States (To me, Italian is ‘eggy’ and American is thick and very creamy).

She had two cookbooks to guide her, but like a true artist, used both as a guide and modified them to her own particular vision. (Dude, the recipe called for 1 tbsp of cream?!?! No way! iIchanged it to 1/4 cup of cream and changed 1 egg to 4 eggs, and 2 slices of BACON! to 1/2 lb of BACON!)

First, 40 cloves of garlic needed to be peeled. This ended up being about three heads. (Holy flippin’ christ! Standing for 20 minutes peeling garlic is hell on the back! Gez, this cooking thing is for youngin’s. Oh but my gawd did i want to eat my hands afterwards. the smell is soooooo gooooood. mmm still can smell them)


A half-pound of bacon (BACON!) is cooked and diced, while a cup of Parmesan Reggiano is grated (and let me tell you, cooking BACON! sucks ass.)

(Freakazoid thumb alert!!!)

The chicken is cleaned and salted and peppered, then seared in a hot pan of olive oil with the garlic.

After a few minutes, the chicken is flipped, and 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of dry white wine (pinot grigio in this case) is added, along with the juice of half a lemon (Right about here is where i am beating him off with the spatula to stop trying to take over and fix the mistakes I am making and to remind him to pick up the camera and shoot ). This is then covered and simmered. (I was feeling quite fancy with my simmering sauce at this point)

Meanwhile, the fettuccine is thrown into salted, oiled, boiling water.

So, to get the carbonara prepped, four eggs are cracked with 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and these are whisked until smooth.

When the chicken is done, it’s set aside with the garlic and kept warm, while the pan juices are mixed with flour and wine to make a gravy (Damnit! Those cloves were suppose to be more roasted and brown. arg! keep in mind, at this point I feel like I am going to be making the BEST MEAL IN THE WORLD. sigh)

When the pasta is done, it’s strained, then tossed into the pot with a half stick of room-temperature butter, the parm, and the bacon. (BACON!) The other half-lemon is juiced into the mix.

Plating is chicken with garlic, sauce pooled over both, with a healthy serving of pasta and carbonara. Some thyme sprigs make a nice garnish.

Deconstruction: Christey did a great job with this. The chicken was cooked to tender (Oh! The chicken was cooked perfect! I never knew it wasn’t suppose to be chewy, this is why I don’t cook, btw), the gravy was really delicious. The fettuccini was a little al dente (That would mean, really really undercooked, he just loves me) with a couple stuck together strands, but really, it was all in a good way — toothiness and good taste. The carbonara was not what she was shooting for — it was runnier instead of that creamy thickness. Maybe yolks-only would have been better instead of whole eggs with the cream (See, I am thinking maybe less eggs, more cream, and maybe some roux (yeah, I know what roux is… sorta….) to thicken it up.). The garlic was a little more garlicy than the roasted garlic we were both hoping for (This means it was almost raw, he loves me, he really does, folks). Maybe throwing the garlic in for a few minutes before the chicken would have been better. It wasn’t overpowering…just not that brown, sticky caramelized roasted garlic we were imagining.

A 11-year old and 7-year old ate more than half of the chicken, so that should say something right there.

Your Executive Chef for the evening: (Good Gawd, I am one goofy mo-fo)


  1. dp says:

    You guys look like you had fun with this, which made it fun to read.

    Anyhow, I wanted to comment about the carbonara in Italy. On our recent vacation, we must have ordered it 5 times, and without fail, it came out scrambled. Completely gross. My friend, who is Italian, said she wasn’t surprised. You have to look off the beaten path to find good Italian food in Italy.

    Your carbonara looks delicious! I definitely prefer carbonara with some cream.

  2. Peter says:

    With 40 cloves of garlic, it damn well better taste good! The sauce looks exquisite too!

  3. Meeta says:

    no you are no goofy mo-fo. you are my type of gal – garlic and all. This is incredible and I wish I could dive straight into that creamy chicken!

  4. 1. good job with the photos, peter!

    2. christey, you are, in fact, a goofy mo-fo.

    3. also, your thumbs are slightly terrifying.

    4. but i would still eat this dish.

  5. tm1nor says:

    i love the idea of switching places. my husband is always the sous chef. i love garlic and will try this recipe out. you guys rock

  6. You guys are awesome! I love that you switched! We need to try that.
    Greg (Mal Carne) just taught me how to make Carbonara. It is really easy, once a pro shows you.
    And Christey, you are so not a Mofo.

  7. Kel says:

    You should try roasting the garlic beforehand! Gives it an extra something, y’know? :)

  8. petermarcus says:

    Dp — See, I liked the eggy carbonara in Italy. It was nothing like what we call carbonara here, but I liked it on its own. Christey kept expecting the creamy style here in the States, so was continuously disappointed.

    Peter — There was definitely an essence of garlic :) It should have been a bit more roasted, but it wasn’t bad at all.

    Meeta — There’s nothing that garlic can’t improve.

    Michelle — Thanks, yes she is, they look weirder in pics (they’re normal in real life), and I would eat it again, too

    Tm1nor — We’re pretty firmly into our own arts. She’s an amazing photographer, and I like to think I know my way around a kitchen, but it was fun to switch.

    Urban — Switching things up is a lot of fun, especially seeing things from a different perspective

    Kel — they were supposed to roast as it cooked, but yeah, I think a little extra help beforehand would be a good addition.

  9. Not only was it fun, but you will be free to vampires. Bad joke, but this is something I have always wanted to try. good job.

  10. Ann says:

    Nice smackdown! That carbonara looks very tasty.

  11. oooooooh. Chicken and 40 cloves is one of my favorite things ever. You did a really nice take on such a traditional dish. I will have to add that next time I make carbonara. Great combination!!

    …And I’m impressed at you two switching places. I’m such a backseat driver when my husband is in the kitchen. He can cook really well, it must just be that I’m extraordinarily bossy or picky (or both,.. eherm.)

  12. Joelen says:

    Now THIS is a recipe I need to try… thanks for sharing it and the gorgeous pics!

  13. Barb says:

    I worked in a Greek restaurant, many years ago. Part of my job involved peeling bus pans full of garlic. At least they let me sit down…

    This looks yummy!

  14. bee says:

    the chef has a wonderful, contented smile.

  15. Hélène says:

    Looking at your pictures & recipes I’ll like to attempt to make both recipes. Wonderful job!