Chicken wrapped in wild garlic leaves and pancetta

Thanks to Kalyn for hosting Weekend Herb Blogging (and I’m sorry I’ve not taken part in a while; the winter has made herb blogging a real stretch of the imagination in the UK!)

Wild garlic isn’t the same plant as the garlic you buy in the supermarket. It belongs to the same family, but wild garlic (Allium Ursinum) has a tiny bulb with no separate cloves, soft leaves and a strong smell but a gentle flavour. Cultivated garlic (Allium Sativum) is a tougher-looking plant, with larger, much more pungent bulbs, and without the soft leaves, instead growing leaves a bit like a leek.

The leaves of wild garlic look a little like the leaves of lily of the valley; a little less glossy and rather softer, but similarly strap-like. In late spring and summer, their extremely pretty white, star-shaped flowers appear – they’re also edible, and are very good as a garnish or in salads. The abundant leaves are very strongly scented, so if you are walking in a wood where there is a patch, you’ll be able to find it with your nose before you spot it. Pick in winter and spring; the plant dies down after flowering. The bruising that happens when you pick the leaf makes the smell even stronger, so don’t leave the container you’ve put your leaves in in the back of the car- consign them to the boot. This smell (and the flavour) becomes softer and sweeter when the leaves are cooked. The leaves will keep raw for several days in the fridge.

I picked a bag of the leaves in Yorkshire, in my mother-in-law’s garden. Wild garlic spreads like crazy, especially in damp shade, and it’s considered a weed when found in gardens. I also dug two clumps and their accompanying soil up, and put them in pots in my own garden. I’m not going to plant them in the ground, because I have a feeling that if I follow my garlicky instincts, in a couple of years I may end up with an all-garlic garden, which isn’t a good look.

Try the leaves in a salad to taste them at their freshest. They’ll also cook beautifully in the same way as spinach (as in the side-dish I prepared to accompany this chicken – saute mushrooms in butter, and add the leaves towards the end, stirring until wilted, then add lemon juice, cayenne pepper and salt), but I think I’ve found the perfect application for them in this chicken and pancetta parcel. I’m very, very pleased with this recipe – if you can get your hands on any wild garlic, give it a try.

You’ll need (per person):

1 chicken breast fillet
5 slices pancetta
1 handful fresh wild garlic leaves
1 knob butter

Lay the slices of pancetta out in a rectangle on a piece of greaseproof paper. The slices should overlap so there are no gaps. Lay the wild garlic leaves all over the top, then place the chicken breast on top of that. Grind pepper all over the chicken (you don’t need any salt; the pancetta will be salty enough on its own) and use the greaseproof paper to wrap the pancetta and garlic leaves around the chicken, as if you were rolling a Swiss roll. Use toothpicks to secure the ends of the pancetta.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan, and when it starts to bubble, saute the wrapped fillets for eight minutes each side. (Start by cooking the presentation side – the one without toothpicks – first.) Garnish with some wilted leaves and pour over the pan juices.

I served the chicken with roast new potatoes, the mushrooms and garlic leaves described above, and a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse. Delicious.

16 Replies to “Chicken wrapped in wild garlic leaves and pancetta”

  1. Welcome back. This looks amazing. The photo is really wonderful. I wonder if I can find this plant here. I’ve never even heard of it.

  2. That looks and sounds phenomenal! I always get so envious when I read about how you pick fresh herbs and vegetables from gardens. Fabulous!

  3. Do get a lovely little book to stick in your pocket when out called ‘Food for Free’ by the great Richard Mabey (HarperCollins). It gives pictures and drawings of all the edible hedgerow plants that grow in the UK. This is the best time of year for many of them.

  4. You might also be interested in They Can’t Ration These by the Vicomte de Mauduit, published by the wonderful Persephone Press. It’s similar to June’s suggestion, but dates from 1940. Among other, more ‘usual’ wild foods, it give you recipes for the esoteric delights of squirrels, nettles and samphire!

  5. June – I already have Food for Free (brilliant book and very useful). They Can’t Ration These is one I’ve not come across, though, Lorna; off to Amazon Marketplace for me.

    Cait – yes, all my own work. It took me a few days of very hard pre-picking thinking to work out what I was going to do with it. I don’t think I could have done much better. (Isn’t immodesty unattractive?)

  6. I bought some cultivated garlic and stumbled across your recipe. Tucking the tiny cloves into the folds of the breast, and laying the leaves across it, before wrapping it up in bacon worked really well too, The tiny bulbs were mild, and not too harsh, so it didnt require lots of cooking. Had a delicious supper, so thanks for giving me the idea!

  7. thank you for the inspiration, we pass loads of wild garlic while out walking and often wondered if it was edible, now were growing our own in pots too thanks to you!

  8. Just tried this for the first time – EXTREMELY yummy and VERY easy. The only thing – I didn’t use enough wild garlic leaves I think. I just used 5 or 6 – tomorrow I’m going to try using more. Agree with the comment above – think this would work with good unsmoked bacon.
    Also – didn’t have toothpicks so chopped up a twig from a bay tree – pretentious or what!

  9. Just cooked this for tea, after an afternoon splashing about with the dog in streams and picking wild garlic, where it grows in abundance in our area! Was easy and very nice.

  10. Sounds wonderful! Since you have so much knowledge about herbs, I was wondering if you have any good uses for cultivated garlic leaves. I bought too much garlic and didn’t use it before it sprouted, so I threw it in a pot of soil and it’s growing like crazy! I just have no idea what to do with it! Thanks for the recipe!

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