Greek Chicken

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Greek Food is really great; lots of olive oil, lots of lemon, oregano, sage, honey – and full-fat, extra creamy yogurt to go with it – meat, fish and seafood until you wish for a couple of extra stomachs to put it all. My kids are firm believers of the incredible phenomenon called the “desert stomach” – extra capacity for sweet stuff that seems to be infinite…..I could have used one or two of them to eat myself through the extensive lunches we’ve enjoyed daily when we visited our friends in Athens. Obviously, though, it seems to be a thing you really, truly have to believe in, else it won’t work – or maybe it only works for sweet stuff? Instead, I felt a lot like Eric Carl’s “Very Hungry Caterpillar” does on Saturday evening….

Our friends, they’re Pro’s at ordering meze; everything was delicious and we mostly ended up eating our own weight in octopus, fried zucchini, tsaziki and all the other things that sat on the table; when there were more dishes than real estate, things simply got stacked up in an appetizing way. Only once did I have serious doubts in our ability to eat it all – unfounded in the end, though – when 1.2 kg of grilled fish arrived after we had some tsaziki, octopus, and so forth….

We didn’t stop at having great taverna lunches, we had really tasty home cooked dinners, too, and the one that was my favorite was the lemony chicken with potatoes. It’s pretty straightforward, there’s only one ingredient that surprised me: mustard. I don’t think of mustard being a particular greek ingredient; mustard greens and other wild greens, boiled and served with lemon, yes, but I didn’t expect prepared, yellow mustard to show up in a greek chicken dish; I guess it’s good to be surprised a bit once in a while…

For my own version of this dish I use chicken thighs, more flavorful than breast meat and (along with drumsticks, of course) the only cut of chicken I can buy here at the grocery store that still has its bones – and more importantly – its skin on. Chicken breast here comes by default boneless and skinless, and don’t get me started down that slippery slope of questioning the destination of all that chicken skin; let’s just say after watching Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” in Los Angeles, where he demonstrated what goes into commercial chicken nuggets, I have been making my own undereducated guesses…..regardless, the possibility of buying a whole chicken, skin and bones and all, is still there, but it’s usually more food than we can eat for one dinner – it’s the “we have people over for dinner” option.

Lemon juice is good, more lemon juice is better, same goes for the olive oil – usually – but the chicken has some fat of its own, so don’t overdo in the olive oil department, else the dish gets a greasy mouth feel to it and that’s a pity. Use the most aromatic oregano you can find, the one I use is greek (surprise!), I bought it when we visited the “Central Market” in Athens and since it was before Easter, it was ruled by whole lambs, head down and quite dead, waiting to be spit roasted on Sunday; I bought oregano, mint, sage and gigantic black-red beans that day – easier to travel with. I have a feeling that an uncooked whole lamb might have raised some eyebrows at check-in…

Note: It’s new potato season, so if you can get hold of some fresh, small potatoes you can leave the skin on and just brush them and roast them whole. Try to avoid buying mealy potatoes in any case, they won’t hold their shape and just be mushy after roasting and not a great experience to eat.

Greek Chicken

dinner for 4

4 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
juice of 2 lemons
2 tblsp mustard
2 tsp dried oregano
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 tblsp olive oil
1 1/2 kg (3 lb) potatoes

1. Mix the lemon juice, mustard, oregano, salt and pepper and olive oil in a small bowl and press the garlic through a garlic press into the mixture.

2. Put the chicken thighs into a baking dish big enough to hold the chicken and the potatoes and rub with some salt and pepper, don’t overdo, the marinade is salted, too, and you don’t want to end up with ready-salted chicken thighs.

3. Peel the potatoes if necessary and cut them into bigger than bite sized chunks. Add them to the baking dish with the chicken and coat them with the marinade.

4. Bake in the oven at 200 C (400 F) for about an hour, or until the skin on the chicken thighs is nice and brown and crispy and the potatoes are tender. Enjoy with some crusty bread to soak up the juices and maybe a greek salad for some frcsh crunch.

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