Sometimes, less is more with a dish. When quality ingredients are selected, they should be allowed to shine, without sharing the stage (in this case the plate). I’ve been hankering for home-spun dishes of late…is it the cold? That we’re in January and full-on in the Winter Blues or that’s just the “food space” that I’m in? All of the above or none of that? Regardless, this the kind of food I’ve been craving and although it won’t win any technical awards, it will gain notice from top chefs.
I remember watching this show that the Food Network would air when they had a programming gap: it was one of those specials where they showed a group of chefs who represented several different countries and they were brought together in Greece to bear witness to food competitions. Each of these chefs knew about competitions as they were chefs for the heads of state in their respective countries.
This chef’s convention began their journey in Athens, being carted from hotel to hotel to see another pretty carved watermelon, another gorgeous buffet fit for the Queen Elizabeth II cruise liner or the spiny lobster served alongside an orgy of other costly ingredients. You could see the looks on the faces of these “top chefs” and I swore I could hear one of them say “meh”.
Fast-forward to the last segment of the TV special and we find the chefs in Crete and they are sitting in a closed, backyard garden that’s so common in Greece with plants and vegetation about. They were guests of a family-run taverna run by a husband and wife team where all the dishes were made of local ingredients and made with a simplicity that belied the pure and outstanding flavours of dish after dish. Local ingredients, traditional ingredients – prepared simply.
The chefs agreed that it was at this Cretan taverna where they finally enjoyed the food and it was a delight to see them share in the celebration of Greek cuisine (through a Cretan kitchen). The dish I am going to show you today could have been served to these chefs on that conference in Greece.
The main flavouring for this dish is good chicken stock. This past Christmas, I splurged on a free-range turkey from a Mennonite farm just 90 minutes southwest of Toronto and sold by a Greek-owned family business called D & D Poultry. It was the best turkey I ever had and I went back for more….some free range chicken (my first taste of D & D poultry).
I’ve posted many takes on Giouvetsi, which basically is Kritharaki (a Greek pasta shaped like orzo) that includes a protein, sparse additional ingredients and liquid. Giouvetsi is baked in the oven until almost all of the liquid is absorbed so that there’s some sauce to the meal yet one also gets some crispy edges of pasta, not unlike what one experiences would a good paella.
This Giouvetsi is a “white giouvetsi” as for it’s colour, despite the addition of a little tomato paste. It’s also white as it is stripped down, allowing for the simple flavours to shine: quality chicken stock with the usual onion, carrot & celery trinity added in, Greek extra-virgin olive oil, Kritharaki (a Greek orzo), some tomato puree, salt, pepper and grated cheese to complete the dish.
Making this Giouvetsi is a two-parter: segmenting your chicken and placing in a pot with the vegetables to make your stock. After an hour or so, the stock is mixed with the olive oil, tomato, topped with the pieces of chicken and seasoned lightly with ground pepper (and salt if needed). All that’s left is to bake the ingredients and transform this basic ingredient list into something most comforting, delicious and definitely memorable. I’m so relieved that I can still appreciate the simple things in life.
White Giouvetsi With Chicken (Λευκο Γιουβετσι με Κοτοπουλο)
1 whole free-range chicken, sectioned (or 4 chicken quarters)
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/2 carrot, roughly chopped
1/2 stalk of celery, roughly chopped
enough water to cover the pieces of chicken
coarse sea salt to taste
1 1/2 cups of Kritharaki (or orzo pasta)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 1/2 cups hot chicken stock
1 heaping Tbsp. of tomato paste
fresh ground pepper to taste
grated dried Greek Myzithra cheese (or your favourite grated cheese)
Pre-heated 375F oven
- Rinse your chicken well and separate the two leg/thigh sections, breasts, wings, etc. Remove any excess fat and place in a large pot with the onion, carrot and celery. Fill the pot with enough cold water to cover the chicken. Bring the water to a boil and skim then reduce to a simmer with the cover on. Skim the fat and season with coarse sea salt to taste and simmer for 45-60 minutes (longer if free range chicken) or until the meat on the chicken is fork-tender*. Carefully remove the pieces of chicken with a slotted spoon and reserve.**
- Pre-heated your oven to 375F and grab yourself a deep baking dish/casserole. Add the olive oil, kritharaki and tomato paste into the baking dish and mix together. As soon as your oven has reached 375F, add the hot stock to the contents in the baking dish and stir to incorporate (important that oven is hot and stock is as well, so that your pasta doesn’t become mushy). Place the pieces of chicken on top and season with fresh ground pepper.
- Place in your pre-heated oven (uncovered) for 35-40 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed while baking and the chicken skin is golden abd crispy. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Divide and serve with grated dry Greek Myzithra cheese and pair with Domaine Skouras Moschofilero white.
*You made speed things up by add your chicken, vegetables and water (season lightly with salt) and place in a pressure cooker for about 20 minutes.
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