['Kosher or coarse sea salt', 'One 3-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces', '2 sage leaves', '2 bay leaves', '1 clove garlic, sliced lengthwise', '6 whole cloves', '2 sprigs fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary', '12 black peppercorns, crushed', '1 dried hot red chile, broken and seeded', 'One 1/8-inch-thick slice prosciutto (about 4 ounces)', '1/2 cup dry white wine', '1/4 cup water']
1. Add 3 tablespoons kosher salt or coarse sea salt to a large bowl. Dissolve in about 1/2 cup warm water. Lay the chicken pieces in the bowl and cover with cold water (about 4 cups). Let stand for about 1 hour. Drain and pat dry.
2. Arrange the chicken pieces in one layer in a skillet and add the sage, bay leaves, garlic, cloves, rosemary, peppercorns, and red pepper. Cut the prosciutto into small cubes and sprinkle it over the chicken. Add the wine and water. Do not add salt, since the prosciutto will season the dish. Cover and simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes.
3. Remove the chicken to a plate and reduce the cooking juices until concentrated and a little syrupy—taste it to see. Serve the chicken in shallow bowls with the juices (and slivered garlic and prosciutto) spooned on top. Mop up juices with country bread.
A great chicken dish deserves (and depends on) a great chicken—buy the highest-quality bird you can find. The best place to look is a farmers' market.
The chicken never browns, so if presentation is your thing, avert your eyes—or simply pull the meat from the bones and make a warm salad with escarole, the broth, and prosciutto. Or use the meat and sauce to make a very simple pasta dish. Whatever you do, be careful not to overcook the chicken. And serve it right after cooking, when its aromatics are most intense.
The original recipe said it serves 4, but when I made the dish for my mother and me, we polished off the whole thing. Only count on it serving 4 if you're making a bunch of side dishes.
It may seem strange to buy expensive prosciutto and cut it into cubes, but don't skimp on the quality of prosciutto. I did once and was punished with a salty sauce. If you can only get indifferent prosciutto, add less of it.
"I remember that I used the recipe the first time because chicken was affordable for a crowd and the ingredients then seemed different but not weird. This recipe as I read and reread it over the years pushed me to learn more about cooking. Why not brown the chicken pieces? (Giobbi does not.) What about putting it all together and sticking it in the oven? What if I chopped the seasonings and put them in the cavity and under the skin of a roasting chicken and then, well, roasted it? The recipe with its time-proven flavors (back to the Renaissance at least?) has never failed.
"For me, this is one of those recipes that permutes endlessly as the seasons, the occasion, or the cook's mood changes. Sometimes (often) I do brown the chicken, sometimes use pancetta instead of prosciutto, sometimes add a little chopped tomato, sometimes introduce porcini mushrooms. If the company at dinner have dietary restrictions, oil-cured black olives can stand in for the pork. I have tried it with boneless chicken breasts only—satisfactory—and with guinea hen—excellent."
From Jonatha Ceely, e-mail MAY 18, 1969: "CHICKEN BIG," BY CRAIG CLAIBORNE. RECIPE BY ED GIOBBI, WHO ADAPTED IT FROM A FAMILY FRIEND IN ITALY. —1969
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