This highly aromatic chicken braised with warm spices is a traditional recipe from Northern Greece and in particular, from the island of Corfu. This beautiful island is located just off Greece’s northwestern coast, with Italy across the Adriatic sea to the west and mainland Greece to the east. Because of its proximity to Italy, the local cuisine has a decidedly different flavor profile from the rest of Greece and the Italian influence is evident in many traditions, recipes and customs.
The name of the dish is pastitsada and it is usually served on Corfu as a special Sunday meal, made with locally raised chicken. What makes this dish so special is the combination of so-called “warm” spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice and cumin. Some grocery stores on the island even sell the mixture of spices required for this dish and local cooks claim that a proper spice blend should contain no less than nine separate spices.
If you want to use a whole chicken, ask the butcher to cut it up in smaller stewing pieces, but do not remove the bones. They will give the dish an even deeper flavor. The longer the chicken braises in this delicious sauce the better it becomes. Longer braising also reduces the sauce, intensifying the incredible flavors of all these warm spices. Traditionally this dish is served with a thick pasta with a hole in the middle (like the Italian bucatini), but it also goes very well with a simple rice pilaf or even with mashed potatoes. This dish is what comfort Greek food tastes like!
- ¼ cup extra-virgin Greek olive oil
- 1 whole chicken (about 3 lbs), cut into 8 small pieces
- (or 2.5 lbs. chicken thighs and breasts)
- --- salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 medium sweet onions, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. sweet paprika
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 5 allspice berries
- 1-2 medium cinnamon sticks (or 1 tsp. cinnamon)
- ½ tsp. ground cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 TBSP. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ½ cup red wine
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup water (or more)
- 1 tsp. salt
- --- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- --- kefalotiri (or pecorino romano cheese), grated
- To prepare the chicken, cut it into 8 pieces (or use organic thighs and breasts so they are not huge size). Trim the fat and remove the skin. The chicken does not need to be deboned, as the bones will make the dish even more flavorful. Pat the trimmed chicken dry and season well all sides with salt and pepper.
- In a large wide pot, or in a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. When they have turned golden brown, remove them from the pot and place them on a platter. Cover them with a piece of foil to keep them warm.
- Add the onion to the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until lightly brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Then, stir in all the spices and cook until fragrant (about one to two minutes at the most). Next, stir in the tomato paste and the sugar.
- Return the chicken to the pot with all its accumulated juices. Pour the wine over the chicken and stir well to deglaze the pot. Allow some of the alcohol to evaporate and then add the crushed tomatoes and about a cup of warm water (or enough to almost cover the chicken). Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, partially covered for one hour or a little longer, depending on the sizes of the chicken pieces. The sauce should reduce and thicken at that point and the chicken should be nice and tender. You should still have plenty of sauce left. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Serve over rice pilaf, or any tubular pasta you might have on hand, with a generous sprinkle of grated cheese.