This recipe came from a cookbook of Georgian recipes that was given to me by one of my chefs. He’s not Eastern European, but he found it and thought it was a cool book.
Flipping through, the photograph of this chicken struck me, but I was also caught by the idea of stuffing the chicken with nuts and spices and fruit. I’ve adapted the recipe, partly because I wasn’t able to get the variety of plum required and have had to use prunes.
Prunes are one of the few fruits I like to use in savoury cooking. They usually work best when paired with spices. Here, I am also thinking about Chinese plum sauce with lots of cloves and star anise, or dried apricots and quinces in Moroccan cooking. At the other end of the spectrum are devils on horseback – which are awful, mainly because of the absence of spices.
The preparation of the farce or stuffing in this recipe is pretty straightforward. The flavours come from Azerbaijan, but the process resembles a French ballotine. In that instance, the walnuts would be replaced with minced pork and the spices discarded.
If you are not confident butterflying a chicken, you should be able to have your butcher do it for you. I find the best way to secure the chicken once it’s been rolled is with wooden skewers threaded through the skin to bring it back together.
When I first made this, I roasted it on a bed of potatoes and onions. I highly recommend this. As the chicken cooked with the prunes and the spices, the vegetables below soaked up the juices and caramelised somewhat.
For this recipe, I’ve also suggested a side dish of pickled vegetables chopped in a salad of fresh lettuce and olive oil. The pickle recipe is derived from Armenia, and is actually fermented. The vegetables are brined, and then left in a jar on top of the fridge for a few weeks. I’ve just used white vegetables – fennel, onions and celery – but most hard vegetables would work. You could use radish, cabbage or carrot.
- 50g pitted prunes, finely chopped
- ½ cup orange juice
- juice and zest from ½ lemon
- 100g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- ½ red onion, grated
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium-sized chicken, boned (butterflied). Your butcher can easily do this for you
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp ground sumac
- Soak the chopped prunes in orange juice for an hour until plump. Drain any excess liquid and mix the prunes with the lemon juice, lemon zest, walnuts and onion. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and set it aside while you prepare the chicken.
- Lay the chicken skin side down. Season the flesh with a little salt and black pepper. Place the prepared stuffing in the middle of the bird. Fold the skin of the chicken over to encase the stuffing. Stitch the bird up with a few skewers and leave in the fridge for an hour to set. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180°C.
- Place the chicken in a roasting tin and rub it with the olive oil. Sprinkle the sumac and one teaspoon of salt all over.
- Roast the chicken for one hour or until the juices run clear when you pierce the thickest part of the leg with the tip of a knife or skewer. Serve with a leafy salad and Armenian pickled vegetables.
Makes a 2-litre jar
- 1 head of fennel, sliced into wedges
- 1 cup white cabbage, sliced into wedges
- 200g small Dutch carrots
- 4 spring onions
- 1 head of wet (new) garlic, left whole, outer layer peeled
- 50g dill heads, pollen or stalks
- 50g fresh horseradish, chopped
- fennel fronds
- 1 litre water
- 3 tbsp sea salt flakes
- 10 black peppercorns
- Arrange the vegetables and aromatics in a sterilised two-litre preserving jar, then top with the cabbage wedges, spring onions, garlic and all the aromatics.
- Bring the water and salt to the boil in a saucepan, then pour over the vegetables. Ensure the contents are fully submerged, then seal and leave in a warm part of your kitchen (25°C) for about three days to pickle. Store in the refrigerator.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 19, 2016 as "Aromatic Caucasus".
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