Kotmis Garo: Georgian Chicken With Garlic And Walnut Sauce

I've been meaning to delve further into Georgian cooking for ages. The cuisine's tart, herby and garlicky tastes are like a red rag to a bull to me. Even just reading the recipes, I know the big, bold tastes are going to excite my taste buds.

This recipe comes from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen & John Welchman. I can't tell you how much of a treasure this book is. Written in the dying years of the USSR, it covers all the states of the Union. The vastness of the USSR ensures that many of the world's great cuisines are represented in or at least influence "Russian" food. That makes this book, alongside other favourites likeThe Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden and Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian Cookbook, a real tour de force tour of the the world's cuisines.

I've heard it said more than once that Georgian cuisine is the "best" of the Soviet cuisines. I can't verify that, but I can easily see the attraction. Take this recipe: chicken marinated with garlic, lemon and olive oil, roasted, then slathered in a walnut-garlic sauce spiked with coriander, fenugreek, turmeric and cayenne pepper--a pared-back approximation of the Georgian spice mix khmeli-suneli.

Given the Young Man's more delicate palate, I had to cut back on the cayenne, which would have changed the flavour profile quite a bit. But to me, the sauce was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. Garlicky, a little sharp, a little herby, a little rich from the walnuts and a little musty (if you'd call it that) from the spices. Considering that it is made with finely chopped nuts, it is very smooth: perhaps the nuts "dissolve" a little when they come in contact with the liquid? Georgian cuisine has many delectable sauces, and this is just one.

The original recipe called for fresh tarragon. That herb is sometimes available here, but not on the day I did the shopping, so I substituted chervil, which has a similar anisey note. If you do the same, I reckon up the amount you use, as it is much subtler than tarragon.

As recommended in the OR, I served this with a tomato and garlic salad (recipe also in Please to the Table) and a vinaigrette dressed French potato salad. That was a lot of lip-smacking tartness, so next time I'd do the potatoes with a creamier dressing.

You need to start marinating this dish at least 6 hours, and make the sauce at least 2 hours before you plan to eat. The actual cooking will take just over half an hour, though.

Both the YM and I were licking our fingers after this.

Kotmis Garo: Georgian chicken with garlic and walnut sauce

Serves 4

4 large chicken legs, skin on
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
50 ml olive oil
150 ml lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 sprigs fresh tarragon, stems crushed with the back of a knife

For the garlic and walnut sauce
3/4 cup walnut pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh coriander
1/2 cup chicken stock, warm (not hot)
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt, to taste
1/8 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground fenugreek
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1 Rub the chicken pieces thoroughly with salt and pepper.

2 Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon and additional salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken and turn to coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for a least 6 hours, turning occasionally.

3 Meanwhile, prepare the garlic and walnut sauce. In a food processor, combine the walnuts, garlic and half of the fresh coriander. Process until the walnuts are finely ground.

4 Transfer to a bowl and stir in the stock, lemon juice to taste, salt coriander, fenugreek, cayenne, turmeric and the remaining fresh coriander. Let the sauce stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

5 Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and, without drying, place meat side down in the pan. Sear for about 3 min, turn once and sear the skin side for about 3 min. Place in hot oven and roast for 30 minutes, turning and basting with the remaining marinade once so that the skin side takes on a golden colour.

6 Serve accompanied by sprigs of fresh coriander, tarragon and mint.