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My Great American Road Trip – New Jersey

August 30, 2020

Here’s my secret shame – I was born in New Jersey. I claim other places as where I’m from. Maine, where I lived from the time I was 6 to 14. And even more so Boston where I lived from about a year to 6 and then again from 14 to 18 and, then again for several years in my adulthood, whilst working for the Boston Symphony. I never claim New Jersey unless I have to.

But having spent as much time in New York City as I did, New Jersey became a different part of my life. My closest friends from college were all from that side of the river. We are rarely all in one place together, but we stay in touch in small groups, and, when it matters, like during the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, gather together. They are my forever posse. And we are all Jersey girls (them more than me).

There was this one time I was in Atlantic City with my friend Lynn, who had been hired to work on a project with the great Donna Summer (also from Boston). On our first night seeing her in concert, my friend wanted to go backstage to say hello. I did not, because I had a rip in my stocking! Lynn dragged me back there, and Donna immediately noticed I was failing to cover my growing run. She grabbed my hand and took me to her dressing area, where she handed me a pair of Wolford panty hose. Use these, she said. They never run. I wore the pair she gave me for years before they no longer held their shape, but they never ran. And I have splurged for Wolford ever since! I thought of Donna Summer, as I put them on the day I went to the Oscars, thinking she’d be so proud. Toot toot, ah, beep beep!

A couple years ago I was in Atlantic City again. This time for a conference and I met Billie Jean King (I don’t even know why I’m linking her – you know who she is). I told her my mother loved her, and she asked if my mom was still alive. I said no and she asked if she could hug me. I cried when she did, and she told me about her mother. Sometimes meeting your heroes is all you want it to be and more.

Anyway, all this to say, I sort of have a soft spot for New Jersey, but I’m still a little embarrassed by it. But not anymore! New Jersey delivered what will absolutely be a staple of my cooking from here on out. Chicken Savoy – and trust me, you want to make this!

Legend has it that, as it’s properly called, Stretch’s Chicken Savoy, was created by Charles “Stretch” Verdicchio, a butcher turned chef at the Belmont Tavern in Belleview, NJ. They even use a photo of the house specialty as their facebook cover shot. There’s some question about the wiseguy history of the Belmont, and the mysterious lack of info about Stretch, but I don’t care. This chicken rocked.

Step one, you get a whole chicken and butcher it into eight pieces. Sounds easy enough, you say? Martha Stewart even has a two and an half minute video about how to do it in less than a minute. But for me, not worth the tiny savings of just buying pre-butchered chicken. Also I only ended up with six pieces, I couldn’t properly separate the thigh from the drumstick. I’m sure with practice this is easy enough, but I’m not interested in getting better at cutting apart bodies – bird or otherwise (talking to you wiseguys!).

Once butchered, you brown the meat skin side down in oil on the stovetop (I always over crowd my pans. Gotta work on that).

While that’s browning you use a mortar and pestle to make a paste of oregano, thyme, pecorino romano cheese, garlic, and olive oil. In seconds, your kitchen will smell like every restaurant in Little Italy or the North End.

When the chicken skin is browned, you spread the paste evenly over the bird and put it in a 500 degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes. After you pull it out, you scrape off the grease and add a cup of red wine vinegar to the remaining pan drippings. Then you spoon the vinegar sauce over the chicken.

Holy crap was that delicious – the vinegar tang with the deep herby cheese – heaven! And I had some of the herby, cheesy paste left so I slathered it on some bread and…..comfort food heaven. The next day I used some more of the paste and a cut up bit of the chicken in pasta and….well you know.

This was super easy (except the butchering) and so, so good. Make this one, you guys. You won’t regret it!

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3 Comments
  1. inacity permalink

    It looks delicious! I must try this. But first, let me ask you this: Why did you leave out the part where we partied with Donna Summer in Atlantic City… on her dime? I know there are no pictures, since it happened in the days before cell phones, but still!

  2. You are so right! I’ve added it. And it was all because of you my love!

  3. inacity permalink

    Beautiful. Glad you left out the part where I tried to sell you for a bottle of champagne.

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