In response to a request on the Chicago board:
Vesuvio is such a wonderful chicago thing. I've had it 4-5 times. Once it was good (not great)--at Giannotti's, the other times it was mediocre to execrable. Inexcusable for such a simple dish.
By happenstance, I've prepared it once or twice. The ingredients are always in the pantry. Here it is, written out.
Stock comes before all else.
Use homemade de-fatted triple strength chicken stock 6-8 hours simmered low heat, 12-15 pounds of backs--be sure to rinse out the bloody guts first or it will embitter the stock and necessitate extra endless skimming, and or necks, turkey necks, chicken thighs and sometimes feet (I can often find fresh ten pound bags of chicken quarters at $0.49 at 'ethnic' supermarkets--but you still have to rinse out the bloody guts from the backbone attached), a big onion and several ribs of celery then water to barely cover; strained then cooled overnight until schmaltz hardens then defatted and then frozen in 8,16 and 32 ounce containers for ready use from the freezer to the microwave; AND intense veal demi-glace.
Mea culpa: the veal demi-glace I get from a close friend who makes it for his catering kitchen, from scratch, first roasting the leg bones that he buys by the 40 pound case, then boiling a tilting steam kettle full, cooling it, defatting it, straining it, over three days until its thick enough to coat a spoon. A little goes a long long way.
The same friend says that unlike years ago, there are now some damn fine commercial stocks and demi-glaces available with NO additives or salt or anything--of course they are not cheap. Since he is my ready source, I haven't looked, but I certainly take his word for it--he's the original obsessive compulsive about his trade and profession.
For a whole chicken cut into eighths, 5 or 6 parts chicken stock to one part veal demi-glace--as much as a half cup or more in total. You can omit the veal demi-glace for this dish and it will still be quite successful; if you can include the veal demi-glace, its that much better.
Chicken cut into eighths with key parts set aside for stock--see below, onion, garlic, one hungarian or banana pepper, fresh peas (optional), stock, white wine and dry sherry (both potable, both must be something you would eagerly drink), high starch potatoes such as Idaho first peeled then cut into hefty wedge shaped 'logs' and par-boiled or even better blanched pre-al dente in the chicken's olive oil drippings, salt, fresh thyme (dried ok) and fresh rosemary (dried NOT ok) and fresh marjoram optional (dried NOT ok), pancetta (optional) or less preferable - bacon, three fresh or two canned plum tomatoes (gently squeeze liquid and set aside for other use), one fresh thai chili or dried red pepper flakes.
Notwithstanding the above, any ingredient set that includes chicken and high starch potatoes is fine, according to your taste.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Start to finish: 45-60 minutes, including preliminary cleanup (pots, pans and utensils rinsed and in sink awaiting dishwasher) and cutting board, counters and stove top cleaned.
Roast chicken and potatoes in wine sauce with fresh peas.
This is a 'pan roast'. Cooked in stages on stove top, re-assembled in the skillet, then finished in the oven.
--if par-boiling potatoes, do it first, then plunge into ice bath and drain (optional, see below), then pat bone dry.
--if blanching potatoes in chicken drippings--preferable; optional--twelve hours prior cut into logs and soak in heavily salted water, then when ready to cook rinse, drain and pat bone dry.
--Generously salt chicken (having removed the first two joints of the wing and setting aside for stock) and leaving the wing's drummette attached to the eighth upper breast portion, and also having cleavered off the drumstick knuckle up to where the meat starts--set aside the drumstick knuckles for stock; likewise set aside the tuchas ('pope's nose') and the whole stem to stern back bone and ribs (guts rinsed out) for stock.
--In a moderately good quality olive oiled high walled heavy skillet (NOT non-stick) over moderately high heat, place seasoned chicken skin side down and quickly cook to a deep brown--don't shake skillet or move chicken; when brown color becomes apparent creeping up on sides of chicken then turn over and continue cooking quickly to a light brown. remove chicken from pan. Its half-cooked, still raw in center. Don't mess with all the good stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan.
--Over same moderately high heat add potatoes and cook to a medium brown, then remove from pan, drain on rack and very lightly salt.
--Drain 80% of remaining oil from skillet--do NOT scrape or discard any floating bits of flavor-precious chicken cracklings.
--Over moderate heat so as not to burn chicken cracklings, sequentially letting each ingredient cook a ways add to skillet: raw pancetta (maybe two ounces in 1/4" inch dice for a 4 pounds broiler) cook until lightly browned--if substituting bacon cook separately and only add lightly browned bacon but not its fat to skillet; then add sliced garlic, onions cut into small wedges, banana (or Hungarian cut into 1/2 pieces, its hotter and I prefer it) and the optional minced thai chili.
--Lastly add thinly wedged plum tomatoes --say eighth wedges ('filetto de pomodoro') which commences the first stage of deglazing the pan.
--Turn up heat to high. The goal here is for the tomatoes to shrink to nothing, leaving only a slight bit of their color.
--Finish deglazing the pan with wine/sherry (say 4:1) maybe a cup reduced by half-to two thirds, scraping the pan so that the bottom is smooth and the caramelized fond bits are swept up into the pan juices
--Lower heat to medium high.
--Add stock, a scant half cup, could be less or more depending on your skillet size and how much you reduced the wine; stir. Continue to reduce.
--Remove pan from heat.
--Add herbs and (optional if thai chili omitted) dried red pepper flakes. Ok to substitute dried thyme for fresh--try to stay away from cheap, harsh Mexican dried thyme--its very metallic. NOT ok to use dried marjoram. If fresh marjoram is unavailable then omit. NOT ok to use dried rosemary. If fresh rosemary is unavailable then omit. Be judicious about the amount of fresh rosemary--too much and it quickly becomes medicinal. If necessary, add salt to taste--but remember both the chicken and potatoes are already salted so you should be fine.
--In a single layer place into skillet chicken skin side up and the browned potato logs.
--Pan juices should come no more than a quarter way up the potato logs. Remove and reserve any extra.
--Place uncovered into a pre-heated 450 F oven, reduce heat to 400 then cook maybe 15-20 minutes or until chicken internal temp is about 155 F or until thickest pieces run barely clear when thigh and thick breast pieces are pierced at bone. Piercing, of course, can dry out your chicken. So be sensible here. During rest stage below, chicken temp will rise ten degrees or so as it continues to cook.
--While chicken is in oven, blanche fresh peas for a minute or two in a steamer until barely done; then shock in an ice water bath until ice floats to top, remove and discard ice, remove peas and drain well (salad spinner?), set aside. Frozen peas aren't bad--if using just defrost and drain well. Forget canned peas, although that said--LeSeur peas have their own inimitable charm. I'd say fresh, or LeSeur--well drained.
--Remove skillet from oven, add peas by gently pressing them down into the pan juice then generously sprinkle with parsley medium (i.e. not fine and not coarse) chopped (don't mix) and let pan sit uncovered 5-10 minutes while chicken and peas finish cooking and chicken has time to 'relax'.
--If potatoes need a little more cooking, remove everything including juices and pop just the potatoes under the broiler for a few minutes on each side (if you browned them nicely in the chicken drippings you shouldn't need this, but this is the backup in any event). You might want to do this anyway to re-caramelize the potatoes which while in the oven have surrendered their caramelized crust to the sauce. Your call.
--Platter and serve (here is where the parsley, added above, gets incorporated).
--This is a true 'segundo', very rich.
--Optionally serve with wilted red radicchio and wilted endive-the bitterness goes nicely next to the richness of the chicken and the sweetness from the caramelized potatoes. Probably best after several earlier courses so everone doesn't pig out on the vesuvio. (Hah. Do what I say, not what I do. smile.)
--Also good with rapini sauteed with garlic, or even quickly cooked turnip greens (different missive-but turnip greens can be served bright green and still be tender and toothsome except in the depths of summer when they grow tough and bitter) but more elegant with the endive and radicchio.
With regards to sourcing the chicken.
--If you can get a fresh 'guinea hen' over in Elmwood Park or somewhere, or can foot the bill for a fresh, genuine free range chicken, the taste difference will be extraordinary. In Chicago (forget it here in Atlanta) you might even be able to still find a poultry market where they will kill a small hen for you--if so, rinse it off immediately, then pat dry thoroughly then refrigerate and be sure to let it age at least 4-5 days or it will be tough and the flavor not fully developed. A cornish hen might work, cut into halves with the wing parts and back bone removed--but I'd be concerned both about the evenness of cooking and that fact that cornish hens today are for the most part--flavorless.
When I write this out, it seems like a LOT of steps, and way too much work. Yet when I do it, it seems effortless. Hmmmmm. Shows me where MY priorities lay.