What Wise Guys Eat
When I lived in the North End of Boston, in the nineteen eighties and nineties, I hung around a neighborhood bar from time to time, called The Corner Café. It was located on Prince Street near the corner of Salem Street. And it was indeed a neighborhood place. The owner, Richie Longo, was a neighborhood kid who grew up on Prince Street and duly attended Saint Leonard’s School–as his first generation Italian-American parents had–along with all the other neighborhood kids.
The regular patrons at the time, were neighborhood people too; all of whom seemed to have nicknames. (although, the nicknames were useful for identification purposes). There was Joe the Lawyer, who wasn’t a lawyer at all, but worked as an insurance investigator. Then there was John the Lawyer, who was a stockbroker, and John the Lawyer, who really was a lawyer with an office across the street. And I was always confused about Mary the Nurse, whose nickname seemed unnecessary; she was indeed a nurse, but she was the only regular named Mary.
Then there were the rest of the regulars: mostly young men ,who fancied themselves to be wise guys. Their conversations were peppered with phrases like ‘fuggeddaboudit,’ and ‘ba-da-bing!’ And they often talked about ‘needing to see this guy,’ or ‘having to take care of that thing.’ But despite the fact that they revered Robert DiNiro, and may have harbored dreams of being known by a nickname like “extreme unction,” the most serious crime any of them may ever have committed was betting on the Red Sox late in September.
When these local heros weren’t talking about ‘this guy,’ or ‘that thing,’ though, the conversation tended to stray toward food; often, toward Chicken Scarpariello. This was a hot dish–literally, and figuratively–during my years in Boston. And the folks often debated the qualities of one preparation over another. The talk often centered around the merits of Cantina d’Italia’s recipe, that included sausage, over Felicia’s, that didn’t. Sausage or not, though, Chicken Scarpariello is the kind of dish that would please any wise guy because it encourages eating with a fork in one hand an a torn-off piece of crusty bread in the other; the latter, used for sopping up the sauce, and for punctuating various exclamations of ‘fuggeddaboudit,’ or ‘ba-da-bing.’
The short version of the history of Chicken Scarpariello, ‘shoemaker’s-style’, is that it was named for the humble fellow who cobbled together the ingredients for the dish from his meager pantry. How it became a wise guy favorite is more obscure, and very likely lost to history. But I suggest that when you serve Chicken Scarpariello at home, the dinner table conversation will become animated and rise a decibel or two above normal. And will you and your fellow diners enjoy it? Fuggeddaboudit.
Skip’s Chicken Scarpariello
Excerpted from my second cookbook, “Almost Italian.”
2 ½ — 3 Lb. Frying chicken cut into 8 pieces
4 Tbs. Olive oil
4 Cloves garlic, peeled, and sliced thinly
1 Cup dry white wine (Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio are popular choices)
6 – 8 hot cherry peppers, cored, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 14 oz. Can chicken broth (preferably low sodium)
4 Tbs. Flat-leaf Italian parsley
2 Tbs. Unsalted butter
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Six Links sweet Italian sausage, cut into 1 in. chunks (optional)
4 Tbs. Flat-leaf Italian parsley
Season the chicken pieces on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute, being careful not to let the garlic burn.
Add the chicken pieces to the sauté pan without crowding. Do this step in batches if necessary. Cook the chicken pieces, turning occasionally, until they’re golden brown all over; about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and reserve on a plate, covering them with aluminum foil.
Raise the heat to high, and add the wine. Boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen any bits of chicken that may have caramelized on the bottom of the pan, for about 2 minutes. Add the cherry peppers, chicken broth, parsley, and butter. Allow the mixture to return to the boil, then stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.
Lower the heat to the simmer, return the chicken to the pan, and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. For a real wise guy presentation, add the sausage at this point too.
Remove the chicken (and optional sausage) pieces to a platter, cover with the sauce and garnish with the parsley. Serve with plenty of Italian bread for sopping up the sauce.