In my recent trip to Tbilisi, I bought a clay baking dish (ketsi) from a subway vendor. We communicated animatedly via miming. Gesturing creatively, she urged me to make chicken in the ketsi (or, so I think!). I also picked up a melange of spices at a street market, from an equally warm vendor whose enthusiastic chatter was translated by her young daughter. This is my homage to the gorgeous Georgian ladies.
Dairy and meat is not a common duo, but inspired by the Tbilisi experience, I present a version of shkmeruli, albeit with some spices (the above street-market spices) and a light, fragrant broth. Enjoy!
- 3.5 lbs chicken (whole OR thighs on the bone) + salt and pepper to taste
- Mirepoix: 1/2 cup beet greens, finely chopped, dry roasted, optionally, for about 4 minutes (measures 1/2 cup after processing)
- 2 cups whole milk + 10-12 garlic cloves crushed,softened in 2 tbsp neutral oil (optional)
- Georgian spices: 1 tsp Utskho suneli (“foreign” spice or blue fenugreek powder) + 2 tsps kharcho (mixed spices)
- 10 sage leaves
- Topping (optional): Georgian Ajika, a chilli-garlic powder
Wipe the chicken pieces dry with kitchen towel and sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Brown both sides of chicken in a heavy bottomed pan. If using a claypot, line the claypot with the greens and place the browned chicken pieces on it. Deglaze the heavy bottomed pan with little water and pour on the chicken. If using an enamel iron pot (Le Cruset), add the greens directly and there is no need to explicitly deglaze.
Mix the Georgian spices in milk and pour gently over the chicken. Sprinkle the sage leaves all over the chicken.
Bake covered at 325 F for 1 hour. If not done, remove lid, baste and bake uncovered until interior temp to 165 F. Serve hot with topping.
Notes, hints, tips:
- Just a couple of weeks before my travel to the Caucasus, I had experimented with a citrus-milk-chicken stew. In a Baader-Meinhof coincidence I ran into shkmeruli -chicken stewed in milk- at Sakhli, ostensibly one of the top Georgian restaurants in Tbilisi. My version here is slightly different from this classic Georgian dish and I present the citrus chicken below.
- If you don’t have Georgian spices, you can substitute with mix of garam masala and coriander powder.
- When using chicken thighs, I skin it to reduce the chicken fat in broth.
- My Mirepoix: I use dry roasting greens, instead of the classical French technique (eponymous!). Any greens will do- just make sure they are finely diced.
- Claypot enables even low-heat cooking; but Le Cruset is a lazier use, since it lets one brown, deglaze and cook in the same pot.
- The milk in the stew curdles– providing little cheese curds and a tasty, light broth.
- Ajika is reminiscent of the Maharashtrian garlic powder (with chilli, coconut, sesame). Almost all cultures –East Asian to Indian to Mexican– seem to have a version of this lip-smacking, hot, pungent topping.
- Citrus Chicken: Here is a floral chicken stewed in milk, that is equally gorgeous. Substitute the Georgian spices with:
Zest of 1 lemon, 2 oranges + 1 orange cut into pieces + 1 tsp ground cardamom + 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon + 9-10 garlic pods, skinned, smashed and softened in 2 tbsp oil
In fact adding the zest at the end gives a stronger citrus aroma to the dish.
Malwani Chicken: The technique is inspired from above- it turned out like restaurant chicken, but without the oiliness. I used no more oil than the little fat the chicken thighs came with. The artesanal Malwani spice was the high end mix from Mumbai Food Court.
— 1.15 lb chicken skinless, on the bone, thighs. Salt and chilli pepper on both sides. Heat oven-proof calphalon. Add chicken thighs, fat side down to render it. Leave untouched for 1 minute. Then turn the thighs. Add 5 crushed garlic and let it heat till garlic is fragrant.
— Make a mix of 3/4 cup lactose-free skim plus milk (a little sweeter that just skim plus. wonder why) +1 1/4 thin yogurt (made from 1% milk) + 2 tsps Malwani spice mix + salt to taste
— Cook covered at 325 F for 1 hr. Then turn down to 300 F for another 15 mins.
Bengali Swordfish: Does the technique transfer to fish ? Here is the application on a firm-fleshed swordfish. Used the same recipe as above- except used Kalyustan’s Bengal Spice mix and baked at 300 F. Turned out Bengali great!