Georgian food is so incredibly delicious but few people know of its many iterations beyond the realms of khachapuri and khinkali. One of my absolute favourite Georgian dishes, for example, is shkmeruli — a decadent chicken dish cooked in a garlic cream sauce. Originally hailing from the Racha region of southeastern Georgia, this chicken dish is fairly ubiquitous on restaurant menus throughout the country. However, if you want to learn to make this flavourful chicken at home, then make sure to follow my shkmeruli recipe for a delicious dish that’s easy enough to make for a weeknight dinner.
Unlike many other Georgian dishes, there are actually very few iterations of shkmeruli and most every recipe only contains a small handful of ingredients. Because of this, you’re going to want to make sure that you have the best quality ingredients possible in order to make the best version of this shkmeruli recipe possible. So make sure to get that good, free-range chicken and splurge on the tasty butter – it will be worth it!
If you’re interested in expanding your cooking repertoire or just want to explore Georgian cuisine deeper, then make sure to give this shkmeruli recipe a go! You seriously won’t be sorry.
What is Shkmeruli?
Before I dive into how to make shkmeruli, we probably need to talk about what exactly it is. Well, simply, shkmeruli is a chicken dish cooked in a garlic cream sauce. And it is absolutely delicious!
This Georgian chicken dish is typically made with a young hen that has been spatchcocked — also known as butterflied. If you’re not familiar with this term, it basically means that the backbone of the chicken is removed so that the whole chicken lies flat.
This is easy enough to do on your own (there are countless internet tutorials out there) with just some kitchen shears, a sharp knife and a bit of confidence, but if you’re not keen to do chicken surgery for dinner, you can always ask your butcher to do it for you. Young hens prepared this way are so common and sought after in Georgia, for instance, that you can just purchase them already butterflied at the supermarket!
Traditionally, the chicken is browned and the fat rendered off of it in a frying pan, the sauce is made, and then all of it is transferred to a clay baking dish (called a ketsi) and moved into the oven to finish cooking. It is served in the sauce with an ample amount of crusty bread to soak up the delicious gravy.
The sauce is incredibly simple and just made with milk, butter, and a LOT of garlic. Georgians and never shy about bold flavours and you shouldn’t be either — this is a dish for garlic lovers and it is really very delicious.
And that’s it! This Georgian chicken dish is refreshingly simple and absolutely lovely. It’s easy enough to make on a busy weeknight but impressive enough to serve at a dinner party — what more could you ask for?
Shkmeruli Recipe: How to Make Shkmeruli
Now that we’ve talked about what shkmeruli is. it’s time to finally talk about how to make it! As I’ve already mentioned, it’s a very easy recipe to make and just requires a little bit of time and attention, but no special skills or equipment!
First off, preheat an oven to 190°C (375°F). You’re also going to want to pat your chicken dry with paper towels and season it liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-low heat until shimmering and add the chicken, breast side down, to the skillet.
Now, you need to weigh the chicken down with something to make sure that the majority of the chicken is touching the pan to ensure even browning. You can use another pan, a cast-iron skillet, or even a brick covered with foil!
Once you’ve done this, you’re going to want to let the chicken cook there for at least fifteen minutes, or until the skin is deeply browned and very crispy and a good amount of fat has been rendered off. Resist the urge to check its progress before about 10 minutes has passed — it will prevent it from forming the crispy brown skin we are looking for.
In the meantime, take the time to chop your garlic. This recipe calls for 10-12 cloves of garlic and, while this may seem like quite a lot, I assure that it is not. Though it’s not entirely necessary, I recommend thinly slicing half of the cloves and finely mincing the other half. This allows for a bit of variance of texture within the sauce and also tends to look prettier on the plate.
Once the chicken has sufficiently browned (after about 15-20 minutes), remove the weight and, using tongs, flip the chicken over and brown on the other side, about 10 more minutes.
Your chicken won’t be fully cooked after this, but it’s time to transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil for the time being while we assemble the sauce. There will be a fair amount of chicken fat in the pan at this time, so it’s unnecessary to add any more oil or fat to the skillet.
Adjusting the heat to low to medium-low, add the sliced garlic to the pan and saute until very fragrant and lightly browned, about 1 to 1.5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook until very fragrant, about 30 seconds, before slowly drizzling in the milk while whisking constantly.
Once the milk is incorporated, heat, still whisking to prevent the milk from breaking, until simmering. Add your butter, one pat at a time, whisking to incorporate fully before adding another pat. You should now have a thin yet cohesive sauce. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 5-10 more minutes until slightly reduced and thickened.
While the sauce is simmering, transfer your chicken to a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, divide it into 4-6 pieces. Transfer the chicken to a casserole or baking dish, or a clay ketsi if you happen have one!
Pour the sauce over the chicken and transfer to the oven and cook for a further 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked through and an instant-read thermometer registers at 74°C (165°) when inserted into the thickest part of the breast. It can be helpful to temp your chicken before putting it in the oven to gauge how long you will need to cook it for — nothing is worse than overcooked chicken!
Remove from the oven and serve, ideally with a very crusty bread in order to soak up the delicious sauce! Traditionally, it is served directly in the baking dish (the ketsi) and I see no reason why you shouldn’t do that on your own table, as well!
The chicken pairs incredibly with a tannic Georgian amber wine, particularly a Kisi or Mtsvane, if you can get your hands on it!
- 1 small whole young chicken, butterflied
- 5-6 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 500 millilitres whole milk
- 30 grams butter, divided
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F) Pat your chicken dry with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Heat one tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat in a large skillet until shimmering. Place the chicken breast-side down in the pan and cover weigh down with a heavy pan, a brick covered in foil, or any weight that will ensure that the maximum amount of the chicken is in contact with the pan. Continue to cook chicken without touching until skin is deep brown and crispy, about 15-20 minutes. After chicken is sufficiently browned and partially cooked, flip chicken using tongs and cook other side for about 5-10 more minutes.
- Remove chicken from pan, transfer to a plate and cover with foil. Set aside. In the pan, there should be a fair amount of fat rendered from the chicken. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the sliced garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, about 1-1.5 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook until very fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Switching to a whisk, slowly drizzle in milk while whisking constantly. Once all of milk is added continue whisking until it reaches a simmer. Still whisking, add butter one pat at a time, whisking until one pat is completely incorporated until adding another. Sauce should be thin, yet cohesive. Simmer for 5-10 minutes further until slightly thickened and reduced.
- In the meantime, transfer chicken to a cutting board and using a sharp knife, divide into 4-6 pieces. Transfer to a baking dish and pour sauce over chicken, move to the oven and finish cooking until done, or when an instant-read thermometer reads 74°C (165°F) when inserted into the thickest part of the breast.
- Remove from oven and serve immediately, preferably with a side of crusty bread.
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Making Georgian shkmeruli couldn’t be easier and it is one of the tastiest Georgian chicken dishes out there. This shkmeruli recipe is traditional and authentic and is sure to bring a bit of the Georgian table to your home kitchen!
Are you searching for the perfect Georgian chicken recipe? Have you made shkmeruli chicken before? Let us know in the comments!