Two years ago, I visited with 4 friends the archaeological site of Eleftherna, at the northern foot of mountain Psiloritis (Rethymno, Crete). The day was very hot and the walk into the history brought us thirst and hunger. At the taverna we crawled in, we ordered drinks and something to eat. Having myself participated in the excavation for 5 years, I felt glad to see again the old lady who owned the place.
Since it was Sunday, she had almost boil a whole free-range chicken to make a pilaf. I was surprised when I saw her kneading dough, stuffing the chicken with rice and onions and wrapping dough up and over it. Rethymno, unlike Western Crete and other parts of Greece, has no tradition of meats wrapped in dough. The dear lady explained the reason she made this ‘pita’ was because she liked the challenge of creating an unusual and special dish, as a sign of hospitality.
Since that summer I have made the recipe again and again, though not exactly the same. One major change to it from the original is the use of tea, instead of water, in the dough. Brewed tea leaves are added to it as well, giving chicken and dough a slightly bitter, spicy flavor. It’s true that the recipe is not really traditional, but I love it because it’s gorgeous in taste.
1 whole chicken
2 cups of black chinese tea
1 tbs. spent leaves from the brew
flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking (around 5 cups)
Stuffing no 1:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ cup rice, Greek Carolina or Arborio
1/3 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
Stuffing no 2:
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic teeth, finely chopped
1 tabs. mustard
1 tbs. ground cinnamon
2 tbs. red wine
Prepare the dough:
Put the tea into your blender or food processor with the tea leaves and blend.
Put the mixture in the fridge for some minutes.
In a bowl combine as much flour is needed (around 4 ½ cups), salt and black pepper. Once the tea is cooled add it to the flour. Knead well on a floured surface. If the dough is too dry add some water or more tea, a little at a time.
Roll it back into a ball, put it into the bowl, put a towel over it and let it aside.
Remove giblets from the chicken and reserve for another use. Wash the chicken, then paper dry.
Mix the ingredients for the stuffing no 1 and put it into the cavity of the chicken. Secure tail end with small wooden skewers.
Mix the ingredients for the stuffing no 2. Push your fingers under the skin of the chicken until you’ll make a little pocket under all the skin.
Push the stuffing, filling all the space out.
Roll out dough, large enough to wrap the whole chicken. Place it onto the center of dough. Fold dough up and over it, pressing ends together to seal.
Place chicken in a shallow greased baking pan. Bake in oven (in a slow heat) for around 2- 2 1/2 hours.
Crack the dough and serve.