I spotted this recipe a while ago on this livejournal with plans to use it one day. The lucky day was yesterday. The recipe comes from Stalik, a celebrated gourmand who spreads his love for cooking Azerbaijani, Uzbeki and other ethnic dishes among the Russian-speaking community of the ex-Soviet republics.
Flattening meats is a common practice in Azerbaijani cooking tradition. In the old times, flattened pieces of meat were cooked between two large flat river stones set over fire; the piping hot stones would provide the meat with enough heat to cook them through, while allowing their juices and flavors to release to their best. This tradition is still observed in some parts of the country, although usually not inside the homes, but outside, in local restaurants. Any dish cooked pressed between the stones is called dasharasi which means “between-the-stones.” Inside the homes, cooks choose to cook their flattened fare pressed under weights in frying pans and with no less success. Here’s a recipe for a succulent flattened chicken, cooked to a golden perfection, the Azerbaijani way.
Update, December 20: I forgot to mention that flattened chicken cooked under weight on a frying pan and not between the stones is also called tabaka as some of my readers mentioned in their comments. Variations of tabaka are available throughout the Caucasus and other parts of ex-Soviet territory. The word tabaka is believed to derive from tava, which means “frying pan” in Georgian and in Azerbaijani and maybe some other languages, too. Some cookbooks claim the birthplace of tabaka to be Georgian (the Republic of Georgia). I am not arguing with this (love Georgian food, by the way). But as I mentioned earlier, flattening and cooking chicken, game, and meats under weight is a common practice in Azerbaijan and as I understand, in many parts of the Caucasus and Central Asia in general.
Flattened Spiced-Herbed Chicken
Adapted from here
Serves about 4
1 medium frying chicken (about 3 pounds/ 1 kg 300 g) (Use organic chicken for best results. The chicken should not be fatty; the leaner the better) – You can substitute chicken with 2-3 Cornish Hens.
3 tablespoons butter
For the Marinade:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
8 gloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Ground black pepper
For Garnish: (This is optional but makes for a visually appealing presentation)
Chopped fresh cilantro
Wash the chicken and pat dry thoroughly. Cut off the tail. Place the chicken breast side up on a large cutting board. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut down the middle of the breast bone, to separate the breast in half. Make sure the chicken remains in one piece. Now, turn the chicken and press to flatten.
Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a mixing bowl and stir to mix.
Rub the chicken all over with the marinade. Place it on a flat plate, cover with a foil paper and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours (the longer the better, you can go as long as overnight).
Heat 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a cast-iron pan, wide enough to fit the flattened chicken. Place the chicken in the pan, breast side down. Now, put a weight on top – I usually put a heat-proof plate (invert it) on the chicken to cover it, then I place a pot filled with water on the plate to keep the chicken flat and pressed. You can use whatever heavy weight you think might work in your case.
Fry the chicken on one side over medium heat until it is nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Turn to cook the other side, about another 15 minutes. The chicken should be cooked through with no pink juices running on the inside and should be golden and crispy on the outside.
Transfer the chicken onto a serving plate. Drizzle with pan juices on top. If desired, sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro and pomegranate seeds.
Note: This recipe appeared on my blog on December 18, but yours truly accidentally deleted it from her dashboard and was never able to retrieve it. Luckily she had a copy on her Azeri-language blog, which she is copy-pasting here, postdate. All the original comments were gone with the post, so she is also copy-pasting them here manually, one by one, from her email account. Sorry for the inconvenience.