Michele Humes (I live in New York and I write about food.)

Public Service Announcement: Chkmeruli

I have just learned to make a Georgian dish of such surpassing deliciousness that I made it two nights in a row. It is chkmeruli — chicken cooked in garlic and milk. Here is a sort of recipe for it, in crappy phone photos.

1. Take a Cornish hen and spatchcock/butterfly it. In Georgia and Russia the cut is always made along the breastbone, but the Western convention (the one I followed) is to cut on either side of the backbone. It’s not a big deal either way; just flatten the bird as much as you can and season very well on both sides. Heat a cast iron pan to medium high, get a tablespoon of butter hot and bubbling, and cook the chicken skin-side up for 5 minutes. Then flip it over and cook for another 5-7 minutes with something heavy to weigh it down (the contraption pictured is a heavy baking dish with a big can of tomatoes for extra oomph), until it’s a nice color. Transfer to a baking dish.

This is a pretty OK color, but next time I’ll look for something even bigger and heavier so it cooks more evenly:

2. Leave the butter and chicken drippings in the pan. Lower the heat and add 10 cloves of garlic, grated to a paste. Pour in 100 ml of water and allow to bubble for a bit, stirring up all the golden sucs; then add 100 ml of whole milk, bring to a boil, and allow to reduce until it’s just starting to look rich. Check the seasoning.

3. Pour all of the garlicky, milky goodness over your bird and stick in a 400F oven until it’s cooked through. How long this takes — in my case, around 15 minutes — will depend on the size of your bird and how thoroughly you seared it, so just keep an eye on it.

This is the final dish. You need to make it right away.

Volume Measurement Denialism

There are 67,100 Google results for ["you may need more flour" + humidity], and that’s just one formulation of the popular American delusion that the water in the air is somehow massively affecting your dough.

Humidity can influence baking, but not to the extent that a dry bagel dough would present as a pool of batter. The real culprit is the notion that there is any such thing as a “cup” of flour: In between manufacturing variations in measuring cups and how loosely or tightly the flour is packed into said cups, we’re looking at fluctuations of up to 15% between your cup of flour and my cup of flour. And the more cups of flour a recipe calls for, the more significant the margin of error.

People who don’t want to spend 15 bucks on a digital scale, or have been lulled by feckless recipe developers into thinking they don’t need to, tell themselves that it’s the weather at work, or that baking is a dark art, not a science.

Buy the damn scale.

I Finally Bust Out My Georgian Cookbook

I bought it in Moscow two summers ago but didn’t get around to cooking from it till last night. I had some bad thoughts I needed to flush out, and I find elaborate, unfamiliar dishes that require my full concentration very good for that sort of thing.

I made chicken satsivi, which is kind of like vitello tonnato in its gritty-smooth way. You know, the cold veal dish with the puréed tuna sauce that seems creamy but contains no cream at all? In this dish, we have roasted, liquefied walnuts doing the work that tuna does, which is a less-than-appealing description for a quite appealing dish. It’s served hot, unlike the veal, and has some of the character of a curry with a beguiling something-else.

I topped it with chopped cilantro and, in the absence of fresh pomegranate, a lick or two of pomegranate molasses.

To go with it, I tried my hand at a khachapuri acharuli–a gooey cheese bread that’s topped at the last minute with an egg (or two) and cooked just until the white sets.

The yolk is still runny and it’s glorious for dipping.

The side dish was an old favorite of mine, the so-called “Korean” carrot salad that is ubiquitous all over Russia and the former Soviet republics. Shredded carrots bathe for hours in a powerful brine of white vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and coriander, alongside minced onion, gently sweated, and a serious quantity of mashed raw garlic.

There were carrots left over, and I was planning to save them for tonight’s dinner, but I just couldn’t help myself and had eaten them up by noon.

All in all, a great success.

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