Monday, 24 December 2012

Chakhokhbili: a Georgian chicken stew

First things first: this is not my recipe. It's not even my take on a classic recipe. It's a minor reorganisation of recipes for chakhokhbili and ajika which can be found by clicking on the words.
It's worth mentioning, though, that ajika isn't restricted to Georgia - Yuliya remembers ajika from her youngest days in southern Ukraine - and chakhokhbili has similarly spread from its country of origin. It's also worth reiterating the point that tinned tomatoes won't give the same result as fresh ones here: the extra effort will be more than repaid if you're cooking small amounts.
Right. That's all the warnings done. Yuliya had this dish on a trip to Crimea some years ago and found it so mouthwatering that it sings even now. I didn't quite scale the heights with my first attempt - I suspect that adding the tomato juice as suggested in the first recipe made everything a bit too watery - but the flavours were good enough to hint that a return match might soon be in order.

Serves two

    For the stew

Two or three chicken thighs/drumsticks per person, skin-on, on the bone
A bunch each of basil, coriander, parsley, dill and tarragon
Six medium tomatoes
A large onion
Two bay leaves
Olive oil for frying

    For the ajika

I've copied and pasted the ingredients here, so you can basically ignore the quantities on the herbs: if you've bought a bunch of coriander and basil for the stew, above, just stick to the proportions shown.
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup fresh coriander
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
3 garlic cloves
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 fresh red chillis, halved and deseeded
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Make the ajika first. Grind the coriander seeds and fenugreek seeds with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Finely chop the herbs just for the ajika. Bung everything into a food processor and blend to a fairly smooth consistency. Put it in a dish in the fridge.
Skin, deseed and chop the tomatoes. Chop the onion. Heat the oil in a sautée pan, for which you have a lid, on a medium-high heat and cook the chicken till sealed and golden.
Turn the heat down to low-medium, then add the onion and fry till softened. Add the tomatoes and juice, together with the bay leaves. Mix, cover, then turn the heat right down. Leave for an hour or so. The chicken should be falling off the bones.
Now for the herbs. The quantities are up to you, but I would suggest the following proportions - parsley 3 basil 2 coriander 2 dill 2 tarragon 1. Chop them finely and stir into the stew, together with a hefty tablespoon of ajika. Season well, re-cover and allow to sit for fifteen minutes, off the heat.

Fried lean potatoes on a mistletoe slack day

Mum and Dad came for the weekend and, cooking dinner on Friday evening, I wanted to make sure I served up something which would go down well. Having made prior enquiries of the guests, I knew that "some sort of stew" was the preferred option, but my defective risk-aversion gene winked off, leading me to make my own somewhat spicy version of a Persian lamb stew. Now, my Mum really does not like spicy food, so I went easy on the cayenne pepper then spent the next two hours fretting that I'd overdone it.

The dish is usually served with rice in our house, and Dad and rice don't mix (he always manages to get a grain stuck in the throat) so I rejigged things a bit, leaving out the potato from the stew and replacing the rice with fried potatoes.

By eight o' clock I was seriously worried. The stew tasted just about right to me, which meant it'd blow Mum's head off, and the spectre of crispy fried potatoes sticking in the throat in precisely the same way as rice was now filling the horizon. I began to imagine myself administering abdominal thrusts and backslaps to Dad while Yulya poured a pint of Gaviscon for Mum.

Fearing the worst, I asked Mum to check the seasoning. She tasted, made a face. Oh feck... But - no! "Perfect" was the verdict. I picked myself up from the floor and plated up. Both asked for more potatoes, and ate them without incident, and Mum asked for the recipe for the stew: cue bluebirds.

After the rambling introduction, here be spuds.

One very large potato per person
A tablespoon of herbes de Provence or other mixed herbs
Two or three tablespoons of virgin olive oil
Half to three-quarters of a litre of light olive oil for frying
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper

Peel and thinly slice the potatoes - somewhere around the 50p piece mark is what you're aiming for. Place them in a large bowl, pour in a glug of extra-virgin olive oil, squeeze in the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and mix with your hands until the potatoes are coated with oil. Leave for half an hour.

Heat the light oil in a sautée pan over a medium-high flame until a piece of potato fizzes vigorously when dropped in but doesn't burst to the surface - this is closer to deep-fried than confit, but not all the way there. Add the sliced spuds in batches, to keep the heat in the pan. All the potatoes should be fully submerged, with room to move around. Cook them at a steady bubble, turning occasionally, until they're nicely browned at the edges and some are beginning to look rather crispy. It should take about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the herby potatoes from the oil and place into a dish lined with kitchen paper. Serve immediately. You could add a sprinkling of paprika, if Mum's not around.

By the way, it's a crap title, I know; the potatoes are thinly sliced and we have no mistletoe; blame the tempranillo for the rest.