Chicken yiouvetsi with orzo

 

This is one of those utterly wet juicy starchy and meaty dishes that is the almost perfect comfort food – and great for a delicate hungover stomach! I discovered it – and the orzo pasta that is used in it – in a taverna in Rhethymno. It was the lunch following Jerry Bruner’s ceremony in that magnificent Turkish ex-mosque and the taverna was crowded with many of us, outdoors under an awning and Giannis was doing his usual host impresario act and ordering innumerable delicacies. This arrived.

Okay there’s a story that precedes this meal. The previous evening Kevan and I had gone with Giannis’ students to a small sort of bar, where there was lots of raki, talk and music and then Korina dancing the rhembetiko – which of course started everyone off in due course. The atmosphere was so wonderful that at some point, Kevan noticed, I had been forgetting to drink the customary water with the raki, and just stuck to the raki. It was the first time in my life – and the only time – that I was sick on the street! So the next day for a very delicate constitution, this wonderful dish was exactly what was needed…

1 ½ kg chicken pieces (or beef or pork if you wish)

3 large tomatoes, chopped, or a 400g can of tinned tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato puree

500g orzo (they call it Kritharaki, basically rice shaped pasta)

1 medium onion, finely diced

½ cup of olive oil

1 litre chicken stock (and water, if needed)

Salt and pepper

Grated kefalotiri cheese for the top

 

Heat two thirds of the oil (in a deep frying pan) and cook the chicken pieces (in batches if the pan not wide enough), until browned on each side – for 4 or 5 minutes. Put the pieces aside in a large baking dish. Wipe down the frying pan, add the remaining third of the oil and fry the onion until soft, then add the tomatoes and tomato puree. Let it all blend for a few minutes, then add the stock and water and let it boil.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Pour the onion and tomato and stock mixture over the meat in the baking dish (possibly add another cup of hot water – you really want this to keep liquid), put the dish in the oven and bake for an hour ish until the meat is tender. Now pour in the orzo into the dish, stir it around, add salt and pepper – and hey – why not a tad of raki too! – cover the baking dish and cook for another ten minutes. Do make sure there is enough liquid to cook the pasta and still leave it juicy at the end, not dry.

If you wish – but I don’t really think it needs it – add some grated kefalotiri on top before serving. It is a heavenly dish, really.