This is the most popular Georgian dish outside Georgia. The young spatchcocked chickens were traditionally cooked on special tapa skillets, weighted down with a brick. I have recently learned that in Hungary they call it ‘iron chicken’. I can just picture those hefty vintage irons adorning frying pans all over Budapest, sweet garlicky smells penetrating multi-storey blocks of flats. This was the first dish my mother taught me. I was not even remotely interested in cooking then, so I burned it badly. The trick is to keep the hob on the lowest setting. As for the weight, my mother often used my dad’s old-school circus dumbbell. It was probably not the safest option and I now use my huge granite mortar, but a couple of food cans should also do the job.
4 garlic cloves, finely grated
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
40g (1½oz) butter
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
½ tablespoon chopped tarragon
½ tablespoon chopped basil
½ tablespoon chopped parsley
½ tablespoon chopped dill
sea salt flakes
Tkhemali (see below)
1. Spatchcock each poussin by cutting it along the backbone with a knife or scissors. Flatten them withthe palm of your hand, then rub with the grated garlic and season generously all over with salt and the cayenne pepper.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy-based skillet or frying pan. Cook the poussins, cut side down, over a medium heat for 3 minutes, then flip them over and cook them skin side down for 5 minutes.
3. Lower the heat and place a cartouche (a circle of baking parchment or greaseproof paper) over the birds, followed by a smaller frying pan on top. Weight it all down with something heavy.
4. Cook for 20–25 minutes over the lowest possibleheat. To test that the poussins are cooked, pull away at the legs – they should come away easily and the juices should run clear.
5. When the birds are done, lift them out and rest on a chopping board for 5 minutes. Add the herbs to the buttery juices and cook for another minute or two.
6. Serve the poussins drizzled with the herby juices, or mop the juices up with some good bread, along with the Tkhemali.
Tkhemali – Georgian plum chutney
350g (11½oz) plums or greengages, stoned and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, grated or crushed
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ tablespoon black treacle
2 sprigs of dill, chopped
sea salt flakes
1. Place the plums or greengages in a saucepan, add a splash of water, cover with a lid and boil over a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until the fruits start to soften.
2. Mash them with a fork, then add the garlic, paprika and treacle, and season with salt.
3. Cook with the lid off for another 10 minutes.
4. Add the dill and serve at room temperature with the Garlicky Georgian poussins. You can keep the sauce for a few days in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator. If sealed, it will keep for ages.
Extracted from Mamushka by Olia Hercules. Available here