Trust me, it's incredible, even though Gwyneth cuts out butter, as well as brandy, red wine, honey, and cloves. Somehow these omissions do not completely ruin the dish. In fact, when I finally read the recipe for authentic chicken kapama, I was a little grossed out because Gwyneth's version is good enough to make liquor and lard seem unnecessary. Adding booze and fat actually seems idiotic, I think, and I never think that.
This is how you make the chicken. First buy a whole chicken. You're going to take it home and chop it into eight pieces. I know zip about knives beyond which ones cut bread, but I'll pretend I know more and tell you to use a good knife, one that's large enough for the bird and sharp enough to saw through bone. You'll need to wash those chicken pieces, because meat is disgusting, and dry them with a paper towel. Then season the chicken with sea salt, black pepper (grind it yourself; have some class), and ground cinnamon. The cinnamon smell is going to hit you pretty hard. That smell will follow you throughout your apartment or your house for the next few hours while you cook, and probably for the next few days too. It's going to be amazing.
I got Gwyneth's recipe from Goop. As you likely know, Goop is Gwyneth's infamous lifestyle publication, emailed to subscribers every Thursday, and it has drawn plenty of negative criticism for being socioeconomically tone-deaf. Martha Stewart, whom I also adore, thinks Gwyneth should stick to acting, but I think she's just pissed because there's another genius in the game. Yeah, I'll say it: Gwyneth Paltrow is a genius. The only proof I need is this unbelievable chicken, which I read about in the March 7, 2013 issue devoted to one-pot meals. "Us super busy b*%?!es love one-pot meals," Gwyneth wrote. She knows me all too well.
In your one pot, over high heat with a discreet amount of olive oil, you're going to cook the chicken for one minute on each side or until the skin is brown. Then you'll take the pieces out of the pot and set them aside on a plate. Use tongs, like an adult. You need to make your sauce, so lower the heat and chop up a yellow onion, the fundamental ingredient in almost anything delicious. Chop up a bunch of garlic too, while you're at it. Don't skimp and get a medium onion at the store, even though the recipe directs you to. Get the biggest one. It'll be better that way.
I never saw the movie in which Gwyneth played Sylvia Plath, but I bet she really understood Sylvia's "every woman loves a fascist" deal. There's a right way to do things in Gwyneth's world: you must go to this hotel when you're in London, you must buy these jeans for fall, you must detox immediately after the holidays with this bland gazpacho. Sure, she packages her preferences by saying "we love" that restaurant or "we collaborated" with this designer, but the imperative is heavily implied. She's telling you what to do if you're going to do it right. Anything else is without value and not worth discussing. Gwyneth is the state, unified and pure. She looks forward, not back. She gets shit done; she's efficient. When she does "comfort food," she does it the best way possible, "with much less clean up."
Throw your onion and garlic in the pot. When the onion is totally translucent, you'll add two 14-oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes (Italian ones, Gwyneth reminds), one half-cup of chicken broth, and a cinnamon stick. Yes, more cinnamon. Stir that, toss in more salt and pepper, and turn the heat up a little so that the sauce is simmering. Put the chicken pieces back in, and don't put a lid on the pot. Let that smell overwhelm your surroundings.
Gwyneth Paltrow is loathsome, but nobody does loathsome better. Blake Lively sucks, Alicia Silverstone looks exhausted, and no one is taking Shailene Woodley's advice on toothpaste. None of them went to Spence, dated Brad Pitt, or won an Academy Award while wearing a pink princess gown, so why would you bother listening to them? You think you know girls and women like Gwyneth, but you don't, not really anyway. No one else is quite on her level. She can do whatever she wants, she is never embarrassed, and she certainly never loses. So of course I want to know what she cooks for 4-6 people on a weeknight. Wouldn't you?
Now you're going to wait for two full hours while the meat gets obscenely tender, to the point where it's falling off the bone. You can shake the pan occasionally, to feel like you're doing something, but that's it. Put on some music. Have patience.
The part of me that follows Goop is the same part of me that wanted to be friends with the popular girls in middle school, no matter how annoying or mean they were. It's the same part of me that cares about trendy exercise classes and weird serums for my face. It's the part of me that cannot deny the beauty of monogrammed luggage and rich people's teeth. It's the version of me who needs to be liked, wants to improve, and thinks someone else knows best. If I look too hard at this part of myself, it goes away. But when I leave it alone and let it be, I can impress people by making a delicious dinner.
The Greeks like orzo, and Gwyneth half-heartedly suggests pasta, but the best partner for the cinnamon chicken is crusty bread. Get the good stuff, the loaf that will get flour on your fingers when you rip your piece off. You don't need anything else for this meal, besides Parmesan cheese and parsley for garnishes. Maybe you want salad as accompaniment, but having a salad would be sort of like having an opening act for Madonna or Prince, so make your decision with that in mind.
I made this chicken for the first time while housesitting in a gorgeous, spacious apartment in the West Village. It seemed like the most appropriate setting for a Goop recipe: tall ceilings, plenty of room to move near the stove, and a beautiful dining table made of dark wood. For four hours or so, I got to indulge a fantasy of not just affluence but also exquisite control, like a dancer moving with grace. The point is not only to know what to make and what to do with each ingredient. I mostly wanted the confidence that comes with not just thinking but knowing I am right. I want to know exactly how other people are going to react. Do you think anyone has left Gwyneth Paltrow's house having said to her face that her chicken was repulsive? Don't be absurd. They loved it.
If you can, don't invite too many people over. Keep the party small. This way you'll have some chicken for later, and you definitely want that. You want leftovers to eat late at night, over the sink, while the fridge's open door lights up your kitchen. That's the kind of thing Gwyneth says to be relatable, within reach, one of us instead of breathing the rarified air she breathes, but it's true. You want that, you do. Trust her. Just this once.
[Image by Tara Jacoby]