Every village in Albania seems to have their own version of a village chicken. My first encounter with village chicken came shortly after we arrived in the country. We were invited to spend the day with Albanian co-workers who took us to their ‘house in the country”. Around lunch time we visited one of their neighbors who proudly showed us his small flock of chickens and asked Sidney, who was all of twenty months at the time, to pick out which bird he liked the best. Sidney quickly pointed to one bird who had curiously come over to investigate the visitors. I didn’t think about this brief encounter again until two hours later when a roasted chicken appeared on our picnic table. Voila! Apparently our son had selected our meal. Fortunately he didn’t connect his selection of a chicken with the lunch we were served.
The concept for village chicken is simple; a whole roasting chicken is put into a pot on top of a bed of grains, covered and cooked over a hot fire. The juices from the roasting chicken infuse the grains and when ready, you have an entire meal in one pot. The grain is usually a bed of white rice, perhaps with a few seasonal vegetables added in, but I’ve also discovered groats, millet, or buckwheat at the bottom of the dish in different restaurants. Because this is Albania, a place where no food goes to waste, every bit of the chicken is traditionally thrown into the pot. If you dig deep enough into the dish you will find bits of liver, heart, and other organ meats along with the neck and chicken parts I don’t recognize.
My version of village chicken is a bit more sophisticated and probably wouldn’t be recognized as the traditional dish by most Albanians. I’ve made mine on a bed of polenta. To infuse the chicken with a deeper flavor, I stuffed the bird’s cavity with fresh orange and lemon wedges and added whole bay leaves. And yes, I discarded any organ meats and any other unrecognizable chicken parts from the dish. So enjoy our house chicken; it is easy, tastes good, and if it doesn’t all get eaten the first night, makes great leftovers the next day.
VILLAGE / DATT HOUSE CHICKEN
1 3/4 cups polenta
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups dry white wine
1 whole roasting chicken, rinsed and patted dry
1 whole orange, cut into wedges
1 whole lemon, cut into wedges
4 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons olive oil
- Place the polenta, chicken broth, and wine in the bottom of a Dutch oven that is large enough to comfortably hold the chicken.
- Rinse the entire chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
- Stuff the chicken cavity with the orange and lemon wedges and the bay leaves.
- Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
- Place the olive oil in a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken on all sides until it is browned.
- Carefully transfer the chicken to the Dutch oven and place on top of the polenta and cover tightly.
- Place the Dutch oven in a 375 degree oven and roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the chicken is cooked through. You can test it by carefully wiggling a drumstick. If it jiggles freely the chicken is done.
The chicken is traditionally served from the pot on the table. You can either serve it whole and carve it at the table or you can remove it from the pot, cut the meat into serving sized pieces then return it to the Dutch oven before bringing it to the table.