Thursday, May 10, 2007


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 16 - Chicken Satsivi

The theme of Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 16 is Something New. This is indeed a very relaxed theme, open to myriad interpretations. The dilemma for me was the angle to take with this theme: My most recent cookery book? A new ingredient? A Kiwi standard that I had not yet cooked? Whilst spending a very late night in bed after reading through yet another theoretical text to help orient the research for my master's thesis, cookery books up around my ears, open, half-opened, forming dangerous, sloping piles that threatened my existence with every change of position I made in bed, I came across a chapter in Silvena Rowe's Feasts: Food for Sharing from Central and Eastern Europe: the Boyar Table.

Intrigued? I was, too.

Though the boyars' supremacy ended in Russia in the 18th century when the Boyar Duma was abolished by Peter the Great, these highest-ranking military officials had wide-reaching power that extended to much of Central and Eastern Europe until the 19th century. Their power and wealth afforded them concomitant indulgence and opulence, propelling a revolutionary change in the culinary arts of this variegated region after bringing Western Europe's top chefs into the fray. You will have heard of chicken Kiev, beef Stroganoff, and veal Orloff - these were all created during this era of now classical cuisine.

I was drawn to Chicken Satsivi, a Georgian dish, because of the sauce, satsivi, which is a paste of walnuts, sauteed onions, coriander, and garlic, liquidized with a broth and perfumed with cinnamon and paprika. If you ask me, it was all too tempting, especially with the temperatures dropping in Auckland; a toasty, nutty sauce was both appealing and new - at least to me. According to Ms. Rowe, satsivi is the most popular sauce made in Georgian households, and it can accompany vegetables, fish, and turkey, in addition to chicken.

It took forever and a day to grind the walnuts because they bind together so quickly, so I suggest that you grind the paste's ingredients in small batches. If you do not have powdered marigold and are going to use saffron, steep it in hot water for 15 minutes first, which will colour the water wonderfully. This might actually give more warmth to the paste instead of just throwing it in with the chicken broth, like I did, consequently not making the resulting colour look very appetizing (brownish-grey).

The following recipe serves 4 (or 2 very hungry people!).

Chicken Satsivi
(from Silvena Rowe's Feasts: Food for Sharing from Central and Eastern Europe)

For the chicken:
10g or 1/3oz butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
salt and pepper

For the sauce:
25g or 1oz butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
300g or 10 1/2oz shelled walnuts
a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 small dried chilli pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered marigold or saffron
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
175ml or 6 fl oz chicken stock
60ml or 2 1/4 fl oz white wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Start with the sauce:
1) In a heavy non-stick pan, melt butter, then saute onion until translucent.
2) Place walnuts, coriander, garlic, chilli pepper in a blender and combine to a paste.
3) Add sauteed onions to the paste and pulse in the blender to combine.
4) Place paste in the pan, and over a low heat add cinnamon, marigold or saffron, and paprika. Mix well and then stir in salt and pepper.
5) Grudually stir in the chicken broth and finally stir in the white wine vinegar.
6) Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, approximately 25 mins.

As the sauce is thickening, move on to the chicken breasts:
1) Over moderately high heat, melt butter in a frying pan and add the oil.
2) Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts before browning in the frying pan. Brown in batches, approximately 2 minutes on each side, otherwise the breasts will steam and not caramelize properly. A 10" pan should contain all 4 average sized chicken breasts once browned.
3) Turn heat down to medium and slowly cook chicken breasts until done, approximately 15 minutes, turning halfway through.

If you would like the sauce to be thicker, simply add 1/2 tablespoon of flour, stir in well, and cook for another minute or so. This dish can be served either warm or cold. Simply slice the chicken breasts on the diagonal and pour the sauce over.

I know that the colour is not exactly hunger-inducing, but I have to say that the lingering taste of the sauce is interesting, haunting almost. There is a lot of mellow sweetness from the walnuts and garlic that is contrasted with the sharpness of the coriander and white wine vinegar. The palate gets a full workout, and this flavour profile is definitely something new to me.
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I got that book just few weeks ago!! Looking forward to cooking from it, and probably starting with something Georgian, too. She's got a recipe for an Estonian fish dish which I didn't recognise, unfortunately, but otherwise the book was a joy to browse.
If you need khmeli-suneli - the Georgian spice mixture - then let me know:)
I must definitely get that book, if only for this delicious sounding recipe! Great to see you back in the kitchen!
I've seen this author cooking on our food channel. Lovely recipe.
Hi, just wanted to let you know that I have tagged you :)For more info, please see my blog.
Pille - I think because I am so far away from Central and Eastern Europe that I find "Feasts" really captivating. Clearly she writes with more authority on Bulgarian recipes than others, but I like how she has arranged her chapters and prefaced most recipes with some information that one can follow up on his or her own. I'm really keen to make makowiec, or what I have known to be Polish poppy seed cake. As fpr khmeli-suneli...what goes in it?

Freya and Paul - Yes, the book is great, especially if the food of this very vast area interests you. Obviously the book is more like a survey because each culture within Central and Eastern Europe could/should have special attention in cookery books devoted to them. And I do love being back in the kitchen...just getting the rhythm back!

Kelly-Jane - I have not seen Silvena Rowe on television in New Zealand, and I only found out about the book through an Amazon recommended list based on my other purchases (!). The gulyas was really outstanding and the satsivi sauce is just really tasty and interesting...there are so many more recipes that tempt me in this book.

Vonsachsen - Thank you for tagging me, but I have recently done a Meme just like your one, which was my blog entry for 6 March, 2007.
This was a very interesting read as well as a poetic description of the flavours in this particular dish! I do feel tempted to try this, and when I do, I´ll report back :)
Vonsachsen - I have to admit that I cracked up when you complemented the "poetic description" of the dish's flavors. I was actually trying to curb my habit of nattering effusively about aromas...I am far too babbly and need to self-edit. I hope you try the satsivi, for it has a wonderful combination of flavors.
Shaun, thanks for sharing not only the wonderful, mouthwatering recipe, but for the great history lesson too.
Please don´t edit, that´s what makes it enjoyable to read and different to others blogs!
Even though I don´t master the English language as to be able to express myself as you do,but I am good enough to appreciate good writing... (oh, how very humble I am LOL)
Ruth - The best thing about WCC is that one is practically given license to try something out of the ordinary. I'm sorry to have not participated in Pasta Presto Nights yet...I promise I will get around to it. We just don't eat a lot of pasta, if any, in this house. That can, of course, be rectified.

Vonsachsen - Any language takes years to really acquire, and it is so great that you have committed to doing your blog in English. Practice makes perfect. It has taken me years to feel comfortable conversing in French, which I now do with relative ease, but that has come from making many mistakes first...And you write so well.
How could you not love those flavours together? Sounds delicious! Despite the very open theme for WCC this month, I still managed to miss it, shame on me.
Brilynn - It really was very delicious, and the leftover sauce made a great dip with pita chips the next day. I have missed quite a few WCCs myself...sometimes life just gets in the way. Thanks for showing your face around here; your blog entries are a hoot.
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