Beep beep beep—ah, finally. You open the oven door to find your little roasted chicken inside, a perfect 165°. You set it on the counter top and give it a rest. Perfumes of lemon and sage fill your kitchen, triggering loud growls from your stomach, but you find ways to distract. Maybe you toast a chunk of bread or pour yourself a glass of wine, but you don’t bother with setting the table—you know perfectly well where this is going. The chicken should probably be given a few more minutes, but come on, hasn’t it rested enough already? You walk over, eying your poultry prize. There’s a moment pause, and then you dive right in. Pull off a wing here, a chunk of breast there. Crunchy, golden skin gives way to tender, supple meat, and ooh, yes, let’s mop up some of those pan drippings for good measure too. To eat with your hands is like choosing your own adventure, picking away until you reach the most rewarding and succulent bites. It’s all fun and Game-of-Thrones like, until you realize you’ve eaten way more bird than appropriate and you’ve got a hefty pile of bones to show for it. Whoops.
What is it about eating with one’s hands that makes the act so satisfying and comforting? I realize not everyone has the luxury to devour a chicken right at the stovetop, saving little for even yourself on the next go, but everyone should get their grub on once in a while. Especially in the warmer months, when all the best foods seem to be best eaten sans-utensils. Hence, I share with you this spicy, slightly sweet grilled chicken recipe that's perfect for the job.
Finger-licking good aside, the marinade showcases a Georgian chili-paste or relish called adjika. Often served as an accompaniment to grilled meats, the paste is salty, hot and intense: summer encapsulated. Add to it garlic, cilantro and honey to temper the kick of the chilis and I can’t promise you that you too won’t turn into a culinary barbarian like me.
Georgian-Style Chicken with Spicy Adjika
Your guests will wonder all night long how you got the meat so tender. The secret ingredient? Mayonnaise! If you are a Russian reading this, you won’t be surprised— Russians love their mayonnaise (to a fault at times) and add it into everything. Here though, mayo works its creamy, fatty magic to lock in the meat’s juices and to bring out the spicy and sweet flavors of the adjika and honey. I give a suggested base for the salt and pepper, but the total amount you end up adding depends on how spicy and salty your chili paste is. I always try to marinade the chicken at least a day in advance, but even 20 minutes at room temperature will be enough.
*Note on adjika: This Georgian-style chili paste/relish hails from the regions of Abkhazia and Samegrelo. Usually red, although sometimes green, it is a preparation of hot and sweet peppers, garlic and herbs and spices such as coriander, garlic and blue fenugreek—every cook has their own “special” blend. Use it, as mentioned before, as an accompaniment to grilled meats or in marinades, or swirl it into soups, stews or even yogurt to make a spicy dip. You can buy it at a Russian or European store that imports goods from that part of the world, substitute it with hot chili-garlic sauce (my go-to) or any other hot pepper relish. Although I haven’t tried it myself, buy this one online too.
For more context, I thoroughly enjoyed this two-part article on the “diamond of Abkhazian cuisine.” Or Georgian, depending on who you ask ;)
2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
3 tablespoons adjika* or hot chili-garlic sauce
¼ cup tablespoons honey
¼ cup mayonnaise
4 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro, more for garnish
1-1 ½ tablespoon salt, more to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper
3-4 pounds of chicken wings, thighs or both
In a large bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients until combined. Season to taste. Add chicken and rub the marinade all over, making sure to get under the skin too. Refrigerate for a few hours, but preferably overnight, in the fridge; if short on time, 20 minutes at room temperature will work fine too.
Heat a grill over medium-high heat. Oil the grill grates. Place half the chicken pieces, skin side down, on grill and cook for about 8-10 minutes with the lid closed. Open the lid and, using large tongs, flip them and cook with the lid closed for another 8-10 minutes, depending on size. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
If you don't have a grill, you can cook these up in the oven. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large shallow baking pan or sheet with foil. Spread wings on the prepared baking sheet in one even layer. Roast until cooked through, about 35-45 minutes, or when meat thermometer reads 165°F. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
Garnish with more cilantro before serving.