Shkmeruli

Shkmeruli
Shkmeruli

I just want to get this out of the way as quickly as possible, and end everyone’s suspense: Spatchcocking is a fantastic way to cook chicken! “Spatchcock” is a fancy word that means you’ve taken chicken (or turkey, or game bird) and removed the backbone so it lays flat. It gives you the opportunity to sear the entire outside of the bird and create a crispy skin. And, without the chest cavity to have to push heat through, cooking time diminishes by about 25%.

Chicken bones are thin enough to clip through with kitchen shears, so all you have to do is cut out the backbone and press the bird flat. If you’re uncomfortable with doing this yourself the first time, get your chicken from a butcher, who will happily spatchcock for you. Alternatively, you can go to the meat counter at your grocery store and ask a professional to do it for you. Most grocery store counters are happy to accommodate requests for specialty cuts. And if your grocery store doesn’t provide that service, buy a whole pre-cut chicken and lay the individual pieces down in your pan.

This chicken, known in Georgia as Shkmeruli, is a classic dish that has been around so long its origins have been forgotten. It is named for the village of Shkmeri, one of a community of three villages in Georgia’s mountainous northwestern Racha region. Shkmeruli is an example of basic, minimal ingredients that work together to create a symphony of flavor. At its most basic, this is a dish made of chicken, garlic, and milk, and that is it. We fancied it up a little with the addition of Ajika, a traditional Georgian seasoning blend that adds a bit of heat and a deep earthiness to the dish—and a beautiful, orangey color.

Because this dish is comprised of so few ingredients, it’s important to select the best ingredients possible. We used whole milk from a local supplier, but any high-quality whole milk will be fine. This would also be delicious if you choose tangy goat milk. When you’re selecting butter, a standard, supermarket butter will provide a neutral creaminess. Cultured butter will add a yogurt-like sourness, while European-style high-fat butter will add a bit more rich depth to the flavor, but the additional 2 or 3% butterfat won’t make an enormous difference in the mouthfeel.

When shopping for fresh garlic, look for cloves that hold snug to each other. The cloves in older garlic will pull away from each other as they evaporate some of their moisture in the air, and they’ll start to turn soft and perhaps even send out new sprouts. Fresh garlic is tight, and can almost be a challenge to break apart. The fresher the garlic, the better the flavor.

Since we wanted to practice what we preach, we also opted to cook this with a fresh, tender, organic chicken that was raised on a farm about 30 miles from us. The price point for organic meats can be off-putting, but since the chicken was the star of the dish and we’ve emphasized finding the best ingredients possible, we thought it was worth the splurge.

The cooking methods behind this dish are fairly straightforward; the spatchcocking should be the most challenging part. First, season the chicken and brown it in a pan that can go from stovetop to oven, and back again. You can help the crispy skin along by pressing the bird down hard on the bottom of a pan. There are presses you can buy for this, but you can also use a second skillet to press down on, bricks or rocks wrapped in foil, or a heat-proof plate that you can hold in place for a few minutes. The idea is to distribute the weight evenly, so a nice, uniform sear is created all over the chicken.

After the chicken has been browned and finished in the oven, remove it to a cutting board and maximize those pan juices. Stir in garlic and let it start to develop its flavor. Don’t stop stirring! Garlic can go from golden to burnt in a flash, so it’s best to keep it moving in the pan to prevent it from prolonged direct contact with the cooking surface. Keep whisking as you slowly stream in the milk; too much heat at once can “break” the milk, or cause the solids to separate from the whey and water. Slow, gentle heat will help the milk remain intact, and incorporate smoothly into the butter and drippings already in the pan.

The best part of the cooking comes once the milk has cooked down and is thick enough to pass the “spoon test”. This test is an easy way to check the viscosity of a liquid, and it’s often used when making ice cream or puddings. Dip a spoon in the milk and let it coat the back of the spoon. Take your finger and draw a line down the middle of the back of the spoon. When it’s thick enough, the milk will stay separated and not run back together, and that means it’s time to eat. Carve the chicken and put it on your serving platter, garnish with another sprinkle of Ajika if desired, and drizzle this rich and spicy sauce all around your perfectly browned chicken. Enjoy!

 Print Recipe

Prep Time: 20 min.
Cooking Time: 50 min.
Category: Chicken, Newest Recipes
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Ingredients:
  • 1 spatchcocked chicken
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Ajika Seasoning, divided
  • 1 teaspoon Fine Sea Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup warm whole milk
Instructions:

1. Spatchcock chicken, if necessary.

2. Mix 1 Tablespoon of softened butter with 1 Tablespoon of Ajika Seasoning. Gently slip fingers under the chicken skin to loosen it from the meat. Rub butter and Ajika mix directly on the meat underneath the skin.

3. Combine Sea Salt, 1 Tablespoon of Ajika Seasoning, and flour, then sprinkle the outside of the chicken on both sides.

4. Preheat oven to 375°F.

5. In a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter over medium high heat.

6. Brown chicken, skin side down until golden brown, approximately 10 minutes. Press chicken against hot cooking surface to help it develop a deep sear, if necessary.

7. Roast in a 375°F oven (skin side up) until the internal temperature reaches 155 to 160 degrees, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

8. Remove chicken from pan. Set chicken on a cutting board and return the pan to the stovetop, over medium heat.

9. Add garlic and butter to pan juices and stir constantly until garlic has softened and cooked but not browned.

10. Warm milk in a small pan or in the microwave. Slowly whisk warm milk together with garlic. Once all the milk is added, season the sauce with 2 teaspoons of Ajika Seasoning. Continue whisking and allow the milk to reduce until the sauce is slightly thickened. It will not be very thick but should coat the back of a spoon.

9 Carve chicken. Place on a platter and pour the Ajika milk sauce over the chicken.

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