Friday, January 20, 2006
Chakhohbili alias Georgian chicken with herbs and wine
I started this foodblog back in June and if I remember correctly, then one of the first comments I left on another blog was avidly defending Georgian cuisine. It's not that I'm an expert on that particular cuisine, but I happily visit the few Georgian (and other Caucasian) restaurants in Tallinn when I have a chance. During my teenage years I lived in a block of flats where our next door neighbours were a stern Russian physics professor (he) and an extremely lively and charming Georgian journalist and theatre critic (she). She was a good cook. I can almost say that I grew up smelling the delicious aromas of Georgian cuisine on a daily basis...
Not sure why, but the recent avian flu scares - which in theory should make me not to want to eat poultry - have had exactly the opposite effect on me. I've been craving chicken for weeks, and last weekend had a go. I did make sure my chicken came from a reputable local organic source and I cooked chicken two days in a row - a Georgian chicken stew on Saturday (to precede the yummy fig tarts) and a somewhat disappointing Caribbean coconut chicken on Sunday (I'm still trying to figure out whether it was me or the recipe).
The following recipe for a Georgian chicken stew is based on quite a few sources, including Clarissa Hyman's The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the World, as well as various Estonian sources. Clarissa Hyman's recipe was probably most useful in terms of which seasonings to use, although the way she included potatoes in her stew was ubiquous, to say the least. I compared, combined and tweaked the various recipes to what I had on hand. Traditionally a whole cut-up chicken is first dry fried in the saucepan before other ingredients are added. I used chicken breasts. To boost the chicken flavour that would have otherwise come from the bones and skin, I added some fresh chicken gravy. The resulting stew was really flavoursome and tasty, and seemed pretty authentic - though adapted - to all eaters. And I think Eteria, my neighbour, would have approved.
Georgian chicken with herbs and wine - Chakhokhbili
500 grams chicken breast fillets, cut into large chunks
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
2 chopped large onions
1 chopped garlic clove
400 grams chopped tomatoes (or couple of peeled fresh tomatoes)
100 ml fresh chicken stock
100 ml medium-bodied red wine
2 bay leaves
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
1 tsp crushed fenugreek seeds (optional)
salt and black pepper
a very generous cupful of fresh herbs (CORIANDER/CILANTRO, TARRAGON, mint, basil, dill, parsley - it MUST include the herbs in capital letters, otherwise it's not even remotely authentic. I used the whole lot apart from mint.)
Heat the oil in a thick saucepan. Add chicken and fry on a medium heat until slightly browned all over.
Add onions, stir for a few minutes. Add garlic and saute, until onion has softened a little.
Add the chilli flakes, coriander and fenugreek*, stir for a few seconds to release aromas. Add tomatoes, fresh chicken stock and wine together with bay leaves. Season. Bring to a simmer, cover the saucepan with a lid and cook for 30-45 minutes (or more, if you wish), stirring every now and then, until the sauce is reduced to a thick glossy sauce.
Remove the bay leaves and add the fresh herbs. Stir and cover for 10 minutes, so the flavours can infuse. Season again, if necessary.
Serve with boiled rice or potatoes, garnish with lemon slices.
* If you can get hold of the Georgian spicy relish, adjika, then use this one instead of the spices (a tablespoon or two, depending on your taste).