When it comes to cult classic recipes, consulting with the authoritative sources is a must. I feel obligated to do so because I am afraid to misrepresent the dish, give you the wrong impression of the flavor and texture, and thus, if unsuccessful, give you all, both literally and figuratively, bad aftertaste.
It’s one of those things, you know, if one tries Pizza Hut product as an introduction to Italian cuisine, one may get seriously repulsed and take out (no, pun wasn’t intended here) a completely wrong impression, and even swear off “Italian” food altogether.
This is why, to post this, I have consulted with and combined two recipes by people, whose authority on Georgian cooking and expertise in adopting ethnic classics to modern kitchen is well respected.
The first source is one of my favorite books about food from of the ex-soviet countries — Please To The Table — by Anya von Bremsen and John Welchman. These folks put together a fantastic collection of Soviet classics, covering every known staple from every corner of the USSR. They are also great masters of adopting complex recipes to the demanding modern world. I have yet to find a recipe from their book that doesn’t work! There are plenty of dishes from Caucasus, and Satsivi is one of my favorites. I like their version for the use of fresh cilantro in the sauce, which gives it a great color, and also carefully combined and well balanced spice bouquet.
The second source is The Georgian Feast, an award winning volume by Darra Goldstein. This book is phenomenal, because it’s not just a compendium of recipes, it’s an anthropological, historical, and cultural study, very well written. Author’s philosophy is staying as true as possible to the tradition. What interested me the most in her rendition of Satsivi is the method. I like her method better than the other one, because it allows to extract maximum flavor from virtually the same list of ingredients. It may also appeal to wider audience because the sauce is creamier, smoother, which people, unaccustomed to coarser textures may find a lot more palatable.
In any case, I highly recommend both books to those interested in exploring ethnic cooking on any level of culinary skill.
What is Satsivi? It’s a walnut based creamy (or slightly coarser, if you like) sauce in which pre-cooked, boiled or roasted, chicken or turkey has been soaked for a few hours. It’s traditionally eaten warm or at room temperature, with flat bread for dipping in the sauce. True connoisseurs claim that this dish is maid primarily for the enjoyment of the sauce — meat, poultry or fish then become secondary. I can definitely understand why it is so, because I personally find the sauce irresistible. Therefore, most attention is paid to creating the sauce.
Here are the What and How, for my adaptation of the two great recipes:
Satsivi, Georgian Chicken in Walnut Sauce
- 3 to 3-1/2 lbs of chicken or turkey, cut into portions, need some fat, so don’t use breast meat alone
- a few sprigs of parsley, bay leaf, salt
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 large onions, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp flour
- 4-6 cups chicken stock (reserved from cooking chicken)
- 3-1/2 cups raw walnuts
- 10 cloves of garlic
- 1 large bunch of cilantro, stems removed
- 1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 small dry chili pepper
- salt to taste
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
There are two ways of cooking chicken. You can make stock, or you can make stock, and then roast the chicken for added flavor. In my opinion, roasting is only applicable and does add flavor, if you are using chicken pieces with bones and skin. If you are using skinless boneless thighs and breast meat, roasting doesn’t make a ton of difference, so proceed accordingly.
Put chicken in a pot, cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, skim the foam that rose to the surface, reduce heat, add 1/2 tbsp salt, a few sprigs of parsley, 1 bay leaf. Cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hr.
If using chicken with bones and skin, remove chicken from stock, place in a roasting pan, and put in 350 degree oven to roast for about 15 minutes or so. You can skip this step if using boneless skinless meat. Set aside.
Chop onions. Melt butter in a skillet over low-medium heat. Saute onions until very solf, but still lightly yellow. Don’t brown. Stir frequently to prevent browning and burning.
While onions are cooking, combine walnuts, garlic, cilantro and all spices and salt in a blender. Add about 1 cup of stock from cooking chicken and process into a paste. If too coarse to process, add a bit more stock as needed.
Add flour to the cooked onions, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the skillet.
When all flour becomes translucent and coats the onions well, add 2-3 cups of stock. Scrape the bottom of the skillet with wooden spoon, and stir well, until smooth. Heat through and allow to simmer for about 10 more minutes, until onions are almost dissolved.
Add walnut paste to the skillet, stir very well, adding more stock if needed, until the sauce is about buttermilk consistency and smooth, simmer for 2-3 minutes or so after bringing to a boil.
Return the sauce to the blender and process yet again to get silky texture. This step is optional, if you like creamier texture.
Pour the sauce back into the skillet (no heat). Mix egg yolks with a little bit of the sauce, and slowly pour back into skillet. Stir well. Add vinegar, stir and let set for a few minutes.
Taste the sauce and adjust salt if necessary.
Pour the sauce into a clay or earthenware dish. Break chicken pieces into bite size chunks, or cut with the knife. Immerse the chicken into the sauce and carefully stir to coat. Let chicken sit in the sauce for at least 1 hour to absorb the flavor.
Garnish with a few walnut halves and chopped cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature, with flat bread or over rice.