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David Lissner
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Eat this! Chicken Vesuvio, Chicago’s native bird

Harry Caray's chicken Vesuvio (photo &copy2009 by Leah A. Zeldes).

Harry Caray's chicken Vesuvio (photo by Leah A. Zeldes).

What it is: Chicken Vesuvio is chicken on the bone, first sauteed with generous amounts of garlic, oregano, white wine and olive oil, and then baked till the skin browns and crisps. It’s served with savory skin-on wedges of potato, treated likewise, and, usually, a few green peas for color.

Where it comes from: The origins of chicken Vesuvio, a dish served at most of Chicago’s classic Italian restaurants and steakhouses, are clouded with mystery. The likeliest scenario is that it was named for The Vesuvio, a Wacker Drive restaurant popular in the 1930s.

Gina Capitanini, granddaughter of the founder of The Italian Village, Chicago’s oldest extant Italian restaurant, said that chicken Vesuvio has been on the menu there since at least 1949, and it’s listed on a 1943 menu for a restaurant called Colisimo’s. By the 1950s, the dish was clearly well enough known that the authors of restaurant guides, such as Francois Pope in his 1955 “Gourmet Dining Guide,” felt little need to describe it when listing it among the offerings of such restaurants as Agostino’s, The Riccardo Studio and The Quadrille.

Wherever it came from, you’ll rarely find it at restaurants outside the Chicago area.

What to do with it: Today, you often see the savory technique given to other foods — “steak Vesuvio,” or “pork chops Vesuvio,” for example, or even just “Vesuvio potatoes.”

Here’s Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse’s version of the classic.

Harry Caray’s chicken Vesuvio

4 large russet potatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
10 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 4-pound roasting chickens, cut into 8 pieces each
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup frozen green peas, cooked

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel and quarter the potatoes lengthwise.

Heat olive oil in a large roasting pan over medium heat. Add the potatoes and garlic cloves; saute the potatoes until golden brown (about 8 minutes). Remove the potatoes and set aside. Discard the garlic cloves.

Add the chicken to the pan and cook lightly on both sides to golden brown. Add the wine and cook, stirring and scraping the pan, until reduced by half.

Return the potatoes to the pan. Season the potatoes and chicken with the salt, pepper, oregano, granulated garlic and parsley. Add the chicken broth and roast uncovered for 45 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees.

Arrange the potatoes around the chicken on a serving platter. Pour the sauce from the pan over the chicken, sprinkle the peas on top, and serve. 4 to 6 servings.

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