Although they're a bit of a fiddle to prepare, these legs are easy to cook: they're browned for a few minutes in a hot pan, and then quickly finished off in the oven. This is a great lunch or dinner-party dish - double up the quantities as you please - because you can prepare the chicken and potatoes in advance and keep them in the fridge until half an hour or so before you serve them.
You can, at a pinch, use whole chicken breasts on the bone for this dish, but their anatomy is such that the butter tends to leak out. Whole chicken legs (or 'Marylands') are ideal because you can make a small opening under the skin and stuff the butter deep into and around the drumstick and thigh. Also, dark meat is juicier and so much more flavourful than breast meat. Please see my Cook's Notes (below) for information about how to get your hands on whole chicken legs.
I don't think this dish needs a sauce, but if you are the saucy type, instructions for a simple (and sinfully rich) reduction of wine, stock and cream are at the very end of the recipe. (I'm feeling dead-guilty about this: when I made this dish to photograph, I also made a sauce, and slurped up all but a tablespoon. That's why there's no sauce in the picture. Look, I was hungry.)
Whole Chicken Legs with Parma Ham & Lemon Herb Butter, and Sauté Potatoes
6 whole chicken legs
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
2 whole anchovy fillets, from a tin or bottle
1 T (15 ml) finely chopped rosemary needles
1 T (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves
2 T (30 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley
the finely grated zest of a lemon
5 T (75 ml) softened butter
milled black pepper
a pinch of flaky sea salt
6 slices of Parma ham
a little vegetable oil for frying
For the potatoes:
6 medium potatoes, peeled
3 T (45 ml) olive oil
2 T (30 ml) butter
salt and milled black pepper
Trim the chicken legs - especially the thigh sections - of any excess fat. Crush the garlic using a mortar and pestle (or chop very finely). Add the anchovies and pound to a paste. Now stir in the rosemary, thyme, parsley, lemon zest and butter. Season with a few grinds of black pepper, but don't add extra salt - the anchovies are salty enough. Push two fingers under the skin of each chicken portion, at the junction of the thigh and drumstick, and carefully loosen the flesh from the skin and its membrane, to make two pockets: one deep into the drumstick, and the other into the thigh. Divide the butter into six portions and spread it inside the pockets, smoothing the skin so that the butter is evenly distributed. Season the chicken pieces with a little salt and black pepper.
Place a piece of clingfilm on a chopping board and rub a light film of olive oil over its surface (this prevents the ham from sticking). Put a piece of Parma ham on the clingfilm. Place a chicken piece, skin-side down and crossways, on the ham, then lift both ends of the ham up and over the middle of leg, pressing it down to secure. Now pick up the clingfilm and wrap it tightly around the chicken. Repeat with the other five pieces. Place the chicken in the fridge for 20 minutes - or longer, if you're making this in advance - for the butter to firm up.
To prepare the potatoes: peel and cut into disks 7mm thick. Drop into a big pot of rapidly boiling salted water, cover, and cook for 4-6 minutes, or until you can poke the tip of a sharp knife through one of the slices, with the potato offering just a little resistance. Drain in a colander, spread the slices on a tray covered with kitchen paper and allow to dry out for 20 minutes, or longer if you're preparing this in advance.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Heat a little vegetable oil in a large frying pan. Brown the chicken, in batches of two: When the oil is very hot, place the chicken, skin side down, in the pan. Cook for 2½-3½ minutes, or until the ham and skin are golden brown and crispy. Turn the chicken over and cook for another 2 minutes. Place skin-side up on a baking sheet while you brown the rest. (If you're making a sauce - see below - set the frying pan to one side.)
Bake at 180ºC for 16-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (see Cook's Notes, below). While the chicken is baking, fry the potatoes: heat some of the olive oil, over a brisk flame, in a large frying pan. Season the slices with salt and pepper. Arrange the slices (you'll need to do this in three batches) in the frying pan, and sizzle for a few minutes, or until golden brown and beginning to crisp. Flip the slices over and fry the other sides. Add a nut of butter to the pan, and toss well to coat. Set aside and keep warm while you finish frying the the remaining potato slices.
Serve the chicken pieces and potato piping hot, with a leafy green salad (rocket, watercress and similar dark leaves are perfect) dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
To make a sauce: When you make the flavoured butter for the chicken, add an extra 2 T (30 ml) butter to the mixture. Stir the mixture well, remove the two extra tablespoons, and place in the fridge, on a plate. Reheat the frying pan in which you fried the chicken pieces. When the fat begins to sizzle, pour in half a cup (125 ml) of white wine. Cook over a fierce heat for three minutes, stirring and scraping to dislodge any golden residue. Add 3/4 cup (180 ml) good chicken stock. Allow to bubble briskly for ten minutes, or until the sauce has reduced by half. Stir in 3 T (45 ml) cream, and cook gently for another three minutes. Finally, stir in the cold butter, a few knobs at a time. The sauce will thicken slightly. Season with a little black pepper and serve with the chicken.
- You won't often see whole legs on a supermarket shelf, so order them in advance from your butcher, or buy whole chickens and cut off the Marylands yourself. (This is really, really easy to do, and whole chickens are so much cheaper than pieces. You can keep the breasts and wings for another dish, and make an excellent stock from the rest of the bones. Here are easy instructions for cutting up a chicken.)
- How long your chicken legs will take to cook through will depend on their size, and the efficiency of your oven. After sixteen minutes, remove one of the legs from the oven and poke a sharp knife-tip into the deepest, underside part of the chicken thigh. If the juices run clear and the flesh next to the bone is very hot to the touch, the chicken is ready. If there is a trace of pinkness, and the flesh is merely warm, put the chicken legs back in the oven for another five to ten minutes.
- Please don't leave out the anchovies. Even if you loathe them, they're an essential savoury ingredient, and I promise that you won't taste a hint of fishiness in this dish.