Tabaka Chicken with Rhubarb Tkemali (Georgian Salt Slab-Grilled Chickens)

Tabaka Chicken with Rhubarb Tkemali (Georgian Salt Slab-Grilled Chickens)

Tabaka is one of the national dishes of the Republic of Georgia. Traditionally it’s made with a game hen that is spatchcocked and fried in clarified butter. But if you can fry it, why not grill it?

Spatchcocked chicken is marinated in a citrus, wine, and cinnamon marinade for at least 6 hours or as long as 24 hours — the longer, the richer the flavor. Then it is cooked on the grill with a salt brick. Served with a traditional sour plum or sour rhubarb sauce, called Tkemali.


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Tabaka Chicken with Rhubarb Tkemali (Georgian Salt Slab-Grilled Chickens)

Recipe Notes

  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6
  • Equipment: 2 salt slabs, or 2 grill presses or bricks wrapped in foil


For the Cinnamon-Orange Marinade:

  • 3 oranges
  • 2 limes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick (3 inches long)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a cleaver
  • 3 slices (each 1⁄4 inch thick) fresh ginger, crushed with the side of a cleaver
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 large onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons sweet or smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the chicken:

  • 2 chickens, each about 3-1/2 pounds, preferably organic
  • 1 recipe Tkemali (see recipe), for serving
  • Fresh dill sprigs, for serving

Recipe Steps

Step 1: Make the marinade: Using a vegetable peeler, remove 1 strip of orange zest, 1 strip of lime zest, and 1 strip of lemon zest and place in a nonreactive saucepan. Juice the oranges, limes, and lemon. Add the juices, the wine, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, and pepper in a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered, until the mixture is reduced, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely.

Step 2: Spatchcock the chickens: To do this, cut out the backbone of each bird using poultry shears. Open as you would a book, remove the breast bones, and flatten them with the palm of your hand. Tuck the wings back, and if desired, cut 1-inch slits in the loose skin between the thigh and the body and pull the chicken legs through. (This makes for a more compact shape.) Arrange the chickens in a baking dish and pour the marinade over them. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Turn 2 or 3 times to ensure even seasoning.

Step 3: Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat medium (350 degrees).

Step 4: Remove the chickens from the marinade and place on the grate, skin side up. Place a salt slab, brick, or grill press on top of each to flatten it. Grill the hens until cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees. (Reposition the salt slabs as needed.) Move the birds as needed to dodge flare-ups.

Step 5: To serve, arrange the chickens on a platter. Serve the tkemali on the side.

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