Post-holiday poultry: Georgian chakhokbili

We recently returned from a few days away in Madeira, known as a holiday destination for ‘newlyweds and nearly-deads.’ To the best of our knowledge (and optimism), we’re neither of those, but we quite fancied a bit of sunshine and warmth somewhere a bit different, and that’s exactly what we got. Madeira was stunningly beautiful, with its mountainous landscapes and balmy temperatures. You need longer than the three-and-a-half days that we had to properly explore it, but we did our best to scrape the surface in as much detail as possible, despite finding out too late that our last day was a public holiday and therefore some of the things we wanted to do weren’t open! We managed the most important thing, though – drinking madeira in Madeira – and that’s what counts.

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As you can imagine, returning to cold, dark, clocks-gone-back England was something of an unpleasant shock (particularly when a severely delayed flight meant that our return happened at 2:30am). Finding out that our boiler wasn’t working was worse still. We therefore desperately needed a hearty, warming dish to cheer ourselves up. At first, this was going to be our usual standby for times when we need comfort food or can’t decide what to cook: the dish we fondly refer to as Greg’s chicken.

But then we discovered Georgian chakhokbili, and Greg’s chicken was side-lined for another day. Chakhokbili is not Georgia’s national dish, but it is very traditional nonetheless. That said, the name comes from the Georgian ‘khokhobi’ (pheasant), which is what it was originally made from, so we weren’t all that traditional with it. It is usually made with chicken now, but typically this would be a whole chicken, whereas we opted for a recipe that used chicken breasts… but you get the idea. Our again slightly altered version of this recipe is below.

Chakhokbili

Ingredients
2 chicken breasts (about 500g), cut into chunks
2 small white onions, chopped
1 1/2 large juicy tomatoes, chopped (remove the skins if you really want to)
Salt
10g coriander, finely chopped
10g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
25ml white wine vinegar
25ml water
3 tbsp oil
3 small bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp chilli powder
(You could reduce/remove the chilli ingredients for a milder dish)

Method
1. Put the chicken and bay leaves in a medium-sized frying pan. Add the vinegar and water and boil until the vinegar and water have disappeared, stirring occasionally. (This took FOREVER, and we were worried that the chicken was going to overcook, so for better or worse we lost patience with this step before the liquid had boiled away completely.)
2. Once the vinegar and water have disappeared, add the oil and onions and fry until the onions start to brown. (Because of the remaining liquid, the onions didn’t really brown, so instead we just sort of sweated them until they’d softened.)
3. Add the garlic and tomatoes to the pan and cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add the coriander, parsley and chilli to the pan, together with salt to taste and chilli powder. Stir and turn off the heat.
5. To serve, remove the bay leaves and garnish with extra coriander if decided. We served with rice.
Serves 2

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This dish was an immediate Mash favourite, even though it looked nothing like the pictures in the original recipe and probably wasn’t anything like a chakhokbili at all. What it unquestionably was was an easy dinner with fresh flavours that was both light and warming at the same time. Another massive point in this meal’s favour is that it is comprised solely of ingredients that we almost always have ‘in stock’, which can’t be said for a lot of the other international dishes we have made as part of this project. For all of these reasons, it’s likely to become a regular fixture on our dinner table. For those midweek moments of ‘We have some chicken; what shall we have for dinner?’, Greg’s chicken might have to share its throne.

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