Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kotopoulo Youvetsi--Chicken Baked with Orzo

In the last couple of weeks, I have come to realize what food blogging is really supposed to be about: Sharing good food with new-found, generous and truly sincere friends.

Personally, I find myself regularly looking forward to my peers' posts, not to criticize their cooking methods and the food that graces their tables, but to share in their insights and thoughts; to have a sneak peek at their lives in Athens, Crete, Sydney, Alaska, Canada, Malaysia, India, Italy, Spain, England, France and so many other places around the world.

I have found blogging refreshing and fulfilling--a way to combine my writing career with my passion for cooking, without the pressure of deadlines, editors’ notes, etc., etc. Even better, since I first began blogging last September, I've found myself making many a new friend whom I await to hear an encouraging comment from and whom I try hard to leave an encouraging word for as well. Incidentally, however, I have also found myself wondering why some bloggers would feel the need to criticize others' ways of approaching a dish and repeatedly assert that their way of cooking is the only way ... indeed, it is not.

Cooking is a truly personal experience. There are traditional dishes that are passed down from generation to generation and these traditional dishes, although alike in their basic ingredients and general concept, may differ slightly due to geography, due to family economics or even due to a cook's/family's personal likings. There are recipes throughout Greece for various dishes--from kokkinisto, to stifado, to fassolada, to fakes, to kakavia, to phylla (or dolmades as known to everyone other than those from Kalymnos!), to bougatsa, to ravani, to youvarlakia, or even pastitsio--that inherently vary slightly. The recipe used for four and five generations within my own family for phylla, ravani or, yes, even pastitsio will very likely vary from fellow Greek bloggers' family recipes and yet, each and every one of these recipes, may wholly and entirely be a traditional Greek recipe passed down within their family from generation to generation. It is not my place, nor anyone else’s for that matter, to claim that such a recipe is not a “traditional” recipe, or that it is a lesser dish, because it includes this herb or that spice while my family’s recipe does not. Period.

And now onto a lighter and definitely yummier subject … below you will find my family's recipe for youvetsi, a very traditional Greek dish most often made with lamb baked in a tomato sauce flavored with bay leaves and cinnamon (and some other herbs depending on where in Greece it is being made; in Kalymnos, for instance, cooks often use what is known there as "thrimbi"--or dried savory--to compliment the cinnamon and bay leaves). The meat is accompanied by kritharaki (orzo) that is baked in the same sauce.

To make this a quicker weeknight meal, and a lighter one at that, I used whole chicken legs in place of lamb. The resulting dish was really quite good--all the flavors of youvetsi in a lighter form--with meaty tender chicken complemented by the flavors of cinnamon and bay and a sauce that effortlessly steals the show.

Kotopoulo Youvetsi -- Chicken Baked with Orzo
Serves 4 to 6

1/3 cup olive oil
4 whole chicken legs
1 large onion, chopped
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound orzo
Grated kefalotyri, myzithra, pecorino or parmesan (for sprinkling before serving)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Season chicken with salt and freshly ground pepper.

In a dutch oven (or other ovenproof pot with lid), heat the oil over medium-high heat and brown the chicken well on both sides. Remove to a plate and set aside. Stir in the onion and saute until soft. Stir in the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and add the chopped tomatoes.

Dilute the tomato paste with one cup of the water. Add the diluted paste and 1 cup of the chicken stock to the dutch oven and bring to a boil. Place the chicken back into the pot (the sauce should come up at least 1/2 way to 2/3 of the way up the chicken, so add a bit more water or stock as necessary). Cover the dutch oven with its lid, place it in the oven and cook the chicken for 45 minutes or so.

Uncover the pot, remove chicken to a plate and keep warm. Add the orzo to the dutch oven with the remaining liquid (and more if necessary) and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Place chicken atop the orzo and bake 15 minutes more until the orzo is tender and the chicken nicely browned.

Serve sprinkled with grated cheese.

***I'm sending this dish over to Ruth of Once Upon a Feast as she is celebrating the 100th edition of Presto Pasta Nights this week. Congrats Ruth and here's to many more yummy pasta round ups!


Anonymous said...

I make this dish all the time, Maria, and I think it's one of the reasons my husband married me. :) I agree with all your sentiments about food blogging. I actually just received an email not long ago from some woman basically yelling at me for soaking my black beans, lol. Some people...

Lulu Barbarian said...

Your recipe looks great! I don't have a chicken youvetsi recipe, so I definitely want to try yours.

"Cooking is a truly personal experience. There are traditional dishes that are passed down from generation to generation and these traditional dishes, although alike in their basic ingredients and general concept, may differ slightly due to geography, due to family economics or even due to a cook's/family's personal likings."

Very well said.

Laurie Constantino said...

Maria, I couldn't agree with you more - about both food blogging and the many ways of making similarly named dishes, all delicious. Thank you for this great post. Also, your youvetsi looks so very good - I usually make it with lamb, but this looks like a great variation.
On throumba (the name I know for the herb you're writing about - see even the names of herbs vary slightly from place to place in Greece!) - I researched it when I did my cookebook and learned it is Satureia thymbra (also known as goat's thyme or thyme-leaved savory) and a relative of summer savory. In Alaska, I approximate the flavor of Greek throumba by using a combination of summer savory and thyme.
Thanks again for this post.

Maria Verivaki said...

this is one of my son's favorite meals, and on your inspiration, i think i'll make it for the sunday roast

i blog for the same reason as you - i feel as though i am entering a friend's home every time i visit interesting blogs from around the world, and these days, travel is not easy for anyone, so armchair travel is very satisfying. it's as though i've been on the phone for too long when i get caught up with fellow bloggers

i notice 'authenticity' is a very topical issue these days, a recurrent theme in the greek blogosphere. i cannot help but think that i too must contribute to the ideas that have been floating around so far over the last few days...

Ruth Daniels said...

Well said! I personally love to see many variations of a dish and my goal is to try them all!

Thanks for sharing this one with Presto Pasta Nights.

Rosie said...

Hi Maria, I agree with your sentiments about food blogging - well said!

Your dish looks wonderful and something I would really like to try.

Rosie x

Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

Well said Maria! I am in total agreement with you! As for the yiouvetsi, well it is the best comfort food around!

PG said...

This seems to be a favourite dish for many. It certainly looks delicious. I'm going to have to add it to my list of recipes to try.

Joanne said...

You have such a great attitude that I think all of us food bloggers out there understand and appreciate...thanks for putting it into words. Great dish also!

Ivy said...

I love giouvetsi but always seems to make chicken with hilopites and moschari giouvetsi. Must try it with chicken as well. You are right that each region has it's own flavour and ingredients are adjusted to what we like best.

Giff said...

totally agree. blogging and cooking are both subjective, personal things. I hate the arrogance of uncompromising dogmatism.

and this meal looks delicious :)

Peter M said...

Maria, I agree with your sentiments line for line. No one's going to tell my family how to cook or what tastes we should have.

The last thing we need is a cookie cutter approach to our food, our regions our culture.

On to the a child I had an "issue with kritharaki" but as an adult...I look forward to it each and every time.

This one looks juuust fine!

Deb in Hawaii said...

This is my first visit to your blog and I loved your post and agree completely. Although the vast majority of the comments I receive are positive, I have been "scolded" for not making something authentic--when I never claimed it was traditional or authentic and also reducing the fat or making something healthier and "spoiling" it. I subscribe to the "if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all" philosophy. People need to think before they leave a comment sometimes.



gastroanthropologist said...

I feel the same way you do about food blogging - I like to see what others are making and use them as inspiration. I also hope that comments are encouraging, used for asking questions, and making suggestions, not for criticisms.

This dish looks lovely. I often find that lamb can be a bit too flavorful for me so welcome the chicken (I might have to do a little of both, my husband loves lamb).

We Are Never Full said...

wow. this is a winner. i love the whole idea of this - cinnamon sticks? baked orzo? sounds like an easy and delicious weekday meal.

Muneeba said...

Presto Pasta Nights are the best ... an amalgamation of fellow carb lovahs! Your recipe really draws me in - I've been meaning to try using orzo in a really special way, and I think your recipe is my answer!