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Saturday, 25 August 2007

Pilafi (Κρητικό πιλάφι με κοτόπουλο - chicken and rice)

Here's a really simple chicken and rice dish that's very nourishing. It is an excellent meal for hungry children who have been playing at school all day long, when they come home at four o'clock (like mine do in winter). By the way, this is the traditional wedding meal, served at all weddings in the region of Hania. All you need to make this dish is some chicken (for a wedding, lamb is more commonly used), BLUE ROSE, BASMATI, JASMINE or another variety of LONG-GRAIN rice (which can be mixed eg basmati and blue rose), some lemon juice and some salt. Brown rice, wild rice and par-boiled rice are NOT suitbale for this dish.

Use one piece of fatty chicken (leave the skin on) per person to be served. Free-range chickens with yellow skin and fat pockets are usually used for this kind of rice dish. I can remember my mother adding butter to deep-frozen New Zealand Tegel chicken to turn the stock into pilafi. You can buy the chicken in pieces, or get a fresh one and chop it up. You don't need to use all the pieces, and it's handy to have some ready in the freezer, or you can buy it last minute from the supermarket. Place them in a pot and fill the pot with water, till it covers at least two inches of the chicken. The best cuts are the ones with lots of fat, which is useful for the stock (the fat will melt in the stock and be discarded later - it is not for eating). Boil away the chicken in the pot (lid on), till the chicken is very soft (practically falling away from the bone).

When the chicken is done, take it out of the pot, drain it, and put it aside. Strain the broth of all impurities, using a sieve, into another pot. Now clean the first pot. Measure out a small wine-glass of white long-grain rice per serving into a separate bowl. Then measure out three small wine-glasses of broth per small wine-glass of rice, into the cleaned-out pot. The measurements are very important, so that the rice will be cooked to the correct consistency. As a guide, the photo shows the appropriate measure of rice and broth using the green cup (2 cups rice=6 cups broth) which fits an average lemon. If there is not enough broth, add water; if there is too much broth, discard the remaining, or freeze it for later use. The broth must be placed in the pot and warmed up BEFORE you add the rice, otherwise the rice will go lumpy. Add salt to taste, give it a good stir, and let the broth come to the boil. At this point, add some lemon juice to your liking.

Now stand over the pot, and stir the pilafi every now and then to make sure it will not stick to the bottom of the pot. Don't over-stir, as the rice will be too lumpy. From this point on, it will not take more than 15 minutes for the rice to be done. You will see the broth congealing, and it is at this point that you must decide when the rice is done to your liking (crunchy - less cooking time; grainy - more cooking time; do not let it go mushy, or it will not taste so good). This dish takes practice to get the rice right! If the rice is still not cooked to your liking, and it is starting to stick to the bottom of the pot, add some more water, and mix it in.

Once it is ready, serve the pilafi with a ladle onto individual plates, with a piece of chicken per serving. It may look a little runny, but it will slowly congeal to the right consistency. Serve it with a tomato or lettuce salad and a good white wine (water for the children!). It tastes spicier with some freshly grated pepper sprinkled over the rice. My children prefer to douse it with Greek strained yoghurt mixed into the rice. If this isn't available, sour cream is just as good.

To help busy people, this dish can be prepared in stages. You can boil the chicken any time up to 48 hours before the rice is to be cooked. Leave the chicken in the broth in the pot in the fridge. When you are ready to cook the rice, heat up the pot as is, till the chicken is heated through, and proceed to take it out and put aside. The broth can be frozen for later use, but the rice dish, once cooked, cannot be frozen. It can, however, be re-heated in the microwave (for best results), and eaten as part of a leftovers meal.

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