Chicken Savoy

Chicken Savoy is a popular dish at many Italian restaurants in my area.  How popular? There are people who call it “the unofficial state dish of New Jersey.”  Mamma mia! Take that Italian hot dog!  (Don’t know what an Italian hot dog is? See * below.  I hate ’em.)

If you don’t live in North Jersey, you probably never heard of of Chicken Savoy. In classic Italian cooking, there is no specific pollo alla savoiarda, just as there is pollo alla fiorentina (chicken Florentine, or chicken with spinach).  But even without provenance, Chicken Savoy—browned chicken pieces with a cheese-herb crust and a tart vinegar sauce—is a relatively fast main course that everyone should know how to make.

First, credit where it is due.  The exact recipe is a secret of the Belmont Tavern in Belleville, NJ.  The joint is pretty darn close to Newark, smack in the heart of Sopranos country. It is a dive, and proud of it.  The chicken’s creator, a chef nicknamed Stretch, has long gone to his reward (to a place where you must get to eat meatballs for breakfast), and his dish has spread to menus through area. But the real deal is served up at the Belmont.

There are a few online recipes for Chicken Savoy, but I don’t find them to be very accurate. There are many little details that make it work.  (C’mon…do you really need a half-cup of olive oil to brown the chicken?)  Listen up, or I’ll sic the ghost of Uncle Pussy Bonpensiero on ya!

*The Italian hot dog is the Snooki of Jersey food–in other words, something that everyone knows, but an easy butt of jokes.  Start with a deep-fried (yes, that’s right) or grilled dog, stick it in thick pita-like pocket bread, stuff in griddled potatoes with onion and peppers, and douse the mess with catsup.  When I had my first Italian hot dough, it made my cry with longing for the frank I grew up with, from the legendary Kasper’s in Oakland, CA. I know there are good ones.  Just count me out.

Print Recipe
Chicken Savoy
Course Main Dish
Servings
2 to 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), giblets discarded, cut into 2 breast halves, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 2 wings
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil as needed
  • 4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano Pecorino, Parmigiano, or Asiago
  • 4 teaspoons dried italian seasoning (or 1 tablespoon dried oregano and 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar, preferably imported and fermented from wine (the label will say so)
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Course Main Dish
Servings
2 to 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), giblets discarded, cut into 2 breast halves, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 2 wings
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil as needed
  • 4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano Pecorino, Parmigiano, or Asiago
  • 4 teaspoons dried italian seasoning (or 1 tablespoon dried oregano and 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar, preferably imported and fermented from wine (the label will say so)
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Instructions
  1. Position a rack in the top third of the oven. (If you are roasting vegetables as a side dish, place another rack in the center of the oven.) Preheat the oven to 450°F. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Season it all over with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a very large (12-inch) heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the chicken, skin side down. Cook until the chicken is well browned on the underside, 4 to 5 minutes, adjusting the heat so the chicken doesn’t burn. Using tongs, turn the chicken and brown the other side, about 4 minutes more. Remove the skillet from the heat. Pour off the fat in the skillet. (Remove the chicken briefly to do so, if you wish. I just hold the chicken back with the tongs.)
  3. Process the remaining 6 tablespoons oil with the garlic in a blender or food processor to mince the garlic. Add the cheese, Italian seasoning, and hot pepper flakes, and process until the mixture is a thick, spreadable paste. Spread a test patch of the paste in a thick layer over the chicken. The paste should cling nicely to the chicken, and not drip. If it is too thick, add a bit more oil, and if it is too thin, stir in some grated Romano.
  4. Return the skillet with the chicken to the oven and roast, without turning, until an instant-read thermometers inserted in the thickest part of a breast half reads 165ºF and the crust is browned, about 25 minutes (start testing at 20 minutes). Remove the skillet from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm.
  5. Pour off any liquid from the skillet, leaving the browned bits in the skillet. Put the skillet on the stove over high heat. Averting your face, add the vinegar (the fumes are strong), and bring to a boil, scraping up the bits in the skillet with a wooden spoon. Boil until the vinegar is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the sauce around the chicken (not over the chicken, which would soften the crust), sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.
Recipe Notes

Note:  Chicken Savoy is excellent with roasted potatoes.  Since the oven will be at 450ºF, you can roast the potatoes at the same time on another rack.  However, give the potatoes a head start of about 10 minutes roasting time so they are done about the same time as the chicken.  Roast the potatoes on the upper rack, and the chicken in its skillet on a lower rack. Scrub, but do not peel, about 1 1/2 pounds red-skinned medium potatoes. Cut each potato lengthwise into 6 wedges.  Toss the potato wedges in a bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread them on a large rimmed baking sheet (half-sheet pan works best).  Roast until the potatoes are golden brown on the bottom, about  20 minutes. Using a thin metal spatula, scrape up the potatoes and turn them over.  Continue roasting until the potatoes are tender and golden brown all over, about 15 minutes more. Sprinkle with a teaspoon or so  of minced fresh thyme or rosemary and season with salt and pepper.

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