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
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.