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Georgian Chicken Walnut Satsivi

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Cult recipe with the mighty bazhe sauce based on pounded roasted walnuts, garlic and pomegranate juice. Not for the faint of heart but delicious and utterly memorable!

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I am fascinated with the originality of Georgian cuisine. Despite being squeezed between major world cultures (Persia, Turkey and Russia) it is rich with a huge array of unique dishes using ingredients I love - especially walnuts.

Satsivi is one of Georgian's cuisine most famous dishes. It is very unique in its heavy use of walnuts in a sour sauce called bazhe that you can also use with vegetables and fish and serve cold or warm. Here is how I do it - very traditional with no personal twist, but using a modernist approach to cooking the chicken.

Chicken Satsivi
For 6
Three medium sized chicken
Seasoning for the chicken stock (2 onions, 2 bay leaves, woody herbs of your choice such a marjoram, oregano, thyme, parsley stalks, leeks, some dehydrated chicken stock, salt)
1.5k kilogram shelled walnuts
6-15 garlic cloves depending on your taste
Paprika, black pepper, coriander seeds, oriental cumin, fenugreek seeds or blue fenugreek leaves, cinammon
Vinegar or pomegranate juice to the taste

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Place your chickens in a pot...

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...then add some stock ...

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... spices, onions, laurel leaves, parsley stalks or other herbs you may have on hand.

Please consider that poaching chicken at a low temperature is one of the most satisfying ways of enjoying this kind of meat. We have grown used to eating stone-dry, overcooked chicken, because some government boffins imposed to cook it at 72C (165F). Sure, 2 seconds at this high temperature is enough to kill all bugs, but muscular fibers contract and squeeze most of the juice out of the meat. There is no putting that juice back into the chicken. Food science shows that instead you can heat the meat to a lower temperature but hold it longer. Much better. All you need is to keep your chicken between 60C and 63C for about 2 hours and it will be pasteurized, absolutely safe to eat, and so juicy that you'll think it's a different meat altogether. You do not need to trust me on this - read one of Nathan Myrrhvold's many excellent articles on this.

I put my pot in a combi oven but you can also use an immersion circulator bought online, these days these things go for less than the price of a good pot.

And please do not wash the raw chicken lest you spread campilobacter all around your kitchen sink and make everybody sick for 3 days by a chain of secondary transfers. Chicken to sink, sink to towel, towel to hand, hand to dessert, dessert to guests, guest to hospital - cook on the hook - game over.

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Meanwhile, let us roast some walnuts for the sauce. Roasting transforms the walnut taste in a way not entirely dissimilar to roasting meat or coffee beans. This is an analogy but you'll see the difference. Now roasting nuts of any kind is a most tricky business as they seem to hang around in the oven for 10 minutes without changing color, then suddendly burn on you in a matter of minutes. I recommend trying about 185C for 15 minutes and not leaving the oven during the last 5-7 minutes. Most ovens are not very precise and are way hotter in some corners, so do diligently check.

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How many pounds of charred walnuts have I hung around my neck like an albatros, to remind people that watched walnuts roast slower, then burn as soon your turn your back for 60 seconds? This happens even to an old nut roaster like myself. There is no justice in the kitchen.

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To make a paste out of these walnuts I used to grind them in a mortar. Now I use an atom-age mixer but try to keep them relatively coarse. My mixer grinds down to 3 microns but somehow an ultra-smooth roasted walnut butter is less appealing to me than something coarser. Some Georgians like it one way, some another. Nobody should tell you how you should like your walnuts but yourself.

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chop the onions and sauté until soft ...

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...then pour in the ground roasted walnuts...

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