FoodGirl and the kitchen

CHICKEN TABAKA WITH A TWIST

I still feel the smell of this chicken cooking engraved in my mind. My mom used to make it. It was simple, filled with garlic and had the crispiest skin just begging to be bit into…

Technically, it is more of a Georgian dish than it is Russian. But since the Georgians had so much influence on our food and culture, we borrowed it from them and called it our own. That’s how we roll.

This chicken can be frequently seen served at Russian restaurants as an entrée, but, to be honest, as many as I have tasted, none were as good as my mom’s. Honestly, NONE! Her knowing hands made the best “tsiplyata tabaka” or, in English, “chicken tabaka”. I remember how my mom would use her garlic press to crush up cloves upon cloves of fresh garlic and then combine that with salt and lots of black pepper… ultimately creating the most unbelievably flavorful paste to rub all over the chicken quarters. She did this all with such speed I never actually learned a recipe from her. She always told me that she wings it, as all good home cooks so frequently do. What I do recall is how carefully and swiftly she rubbed every single one of those pieces of chicken down with this paste. She covered every nook and cranny, making sure to get it under the skin. Because when that garlic becomes sweet from cooking, and melts into the chicken, and hits your palate, – it is heaven.

My mom had an incredible encyclopedia of techniques that she learned from friends, clients and the many culinary shows we watched. The particular technique that she used to create this garlicky chicken was brilliant. She cooked the chicken under a heavy press. She would always fill up a giant 2-gallon jar with water, place a plate on top of the chicken and then add the jar on top of the plate. Essentially, using the same technique as you would in a brick chicken. I supposed I am a bit fancier: I didn’t have a large jar, but I did have a fancy whiskey bottle that was just as heavy. When doing this technique, anything will work. Even a heavy brick.

Why is this technique so brilliant?

  1. It weighs the chicken down so that it is closer to the bottom of the pan and it cooks faster.
  2. It pushes the chicken completely flat so that it gets perfectly crispy on all sides.
  3. It creates a barrier from all those oil splatters that we all hate to clean up after.

My mom used to methodically turn the chicken every so often, making sure that the perfect brown color was achieved on all sides. I was always ready with a plate in hand to get the first piece. I inhaled that glorious chicken with the classic Russian salad  and a piece of dark rye bread. I would burn my tongue over and over again on the piping hot chicken but never cared. It was just too good to stop eating. My mom was always happy that her malnourished child was eating SOMETHING and allowed me to have as many as I wanted. My scrawny self would typically inhale 2-3 pieces depending on how hungry I was and moaned of how full my overgrown belly was. Childhood bliss was achieved.

Recently on one particularly cold night here in the Chi I decided that I needed to have some nostalgia in the form of comfort food to warm me up. Plus the munchkin and the hubs happen to love this stuff. In an effort to be efficient and to clean fewer dishes, I threw in some of my favorite baby Yukon gold potatoes while it was cooking as well… and the end result was… well… pure delicious joy. Garlic chicken and potatoes… What can be better comfort food than that?

INGREDIENTS:

2-3 pounds chicken quarters
10-12 garlic cloves
2 teaspoon of kosher salt or sea salt
1.5 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
½ a teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
4 tablespoon olive oil + 1 teaspoon olive oil
2 pounds of baby Yukon gold potatoes* cut in half
a heavy object to use as weight (cast iron pans work great)
a round plate to cover the chicken and to lay your weight on top off
parsley for garnishing, optional

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Add garlic, salt, black pepper and 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a blender or food processor. Process until a smooth paste forms. Add more olive oil, if necessary, to get the mixture smoother.
  2. Pat dry the chicken quarters and slather the garlic mixture onto them, making sure to cover all nooks and crannies, most importantly getting plenty of the garlic mixture under the skin of the chicken.
  3. In a bowl toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper. Toss to combine.
  4. Add olive oil to heavy-bottomed pan large enough to fit the potatoes and the chicken. I used my aluminum-covered cast iron Dutch oven. Heat the pan to medium high.
  5. Add chicken quarters to the pan SKIN SIDE DOWN. Place the potatoes around the chicken. Add the plate on top of the chicken and then the weight on top of the plate. Allow cooking for 5 minutes uninterrupted.
  6. Remove the weight and the plate carefully with a towel, as the plate will be hot! Flip the chicken and the potatoes and add the plate and the weight back on. Allow cooking for 5 minutes.
  7. Do this entire method 2 more times, making sure to keep the heat at medium, otherwise the chicken will burn.*
  8. The chicken will be done when the juices run clear.*

NOTES

  1. I prefer baby Yukon golds, because they are the most tender and the sweetest. However, you can also use regular Yukon golds and just quarter them, so they cook faster.
  2. If the potatoes are still not done, when the chicken is, just remove the chicken from the pan. Place a foil tent over it to keep it warm, continue cooking until they are fork tender and delicious.
  3. After the chicken is browned in the first 10 minutes, you can place it into a 400-degree oven and finish cooking it in there. However, this is not the actual real technique of “tsiplyata tabaka”. Essentially this is a technique very similar to that of brick chicken.

For a step by step tutorial and more pictures go to www.girlandthekitchen.com

Mila Furman

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