Making this dish was an adventure in and of itself; eating it was another. Chakhokhbili is a Georgian chicken stew infused with lots of spices and vegetables; instead of making a stew, I decided to roast the chicken whole to give my guests their desired selection of meat. This was the hands-down favorite at my last dinner party. Georgian cuisine is very flavorful and based on ingredients native to the region; one cannot categorize it as Middle Eastern, Indian or Russian, it is an entity in and of itself. The Georgian people are fiercely proud of the culinary bounty provided by their native land, which is clear from the first bite.
The recipe is based on Clarissa Hyman's chakhokhbili recipe published in The Jewish Kitchen, one of my favorite cookbooks. I had to adjust a few ingredients and the cooking time, as always, but I stuck fairly close to the original recipe. However, the sauce came out a little too chunky for my taste, so I'm describing each step separately.
For the sauce:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 lb peeled and boiled potatoes
15 oz can plain tomato sauce
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup Shiraz or other red wine
Put the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they become translucent and slightly browned; remove from the heat. Combine all sauce ingredients and mash together, not all lumps need to be gone but the potatoes should be mashed enough to contribute to the texture of the sauce. Heat for about 10 minutes.
For the chicken:
1 medium chicken
1 large roasting pan, lined with foil
1 cup chicken broth
several tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the broth into the roasting pan and after salting and rinsing, add the chicken. Top the chicken with a cup to a cup and a half of the sauce and bake for an hour and a half. Remove from the oven and increase the heat to 400. Using a wooden spoon, gently clear some of the sauce from the top of the chicken -- this will allow the outside to become crispy. Put it back in the oven and cook until the outside is brown and crispy; using a meat thermometer, check to make sure the meat on the thigh hits at least 165 degrees before removing for good. You can either serve this whole and allow people to sauce it as they desire or you can divide it into about 8 sections, toss and coat with the remainder of the sauce and finally, top with the fresh mint.