I have a variation on the “Bambi complex,” “Bambi factor,” or “Bambi syndrome” which are three terms used interchangeably for sentimental, sympathetic attitudes toward wildlife, especially deer. They are usually used derogatorily and reflect a backlash against humane, anti-hunting, and preservationist values, and the excessive sentimentality that Bambi has often come to symbolize. Although I have no problems eating venison, I couldn’t eat any of the delicious civet of rabbit that Steve cooked for our equinox feast. So mine is the Bugs Bunny syndrome. Elmer obviously has it too.
Originally released on July 27, 1940, A Wild Hare is noteworthy as the first true Bugs Bunny cartoon, as well as for settling on the classic voice and appearance of the hunter, Elmer Fudd. The opening lines of both characters—”Be vewy, vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits” for Elmer, and “Eh, what’s up Doc?” for the rabbit—would become catchphrases throughout their subsequent films.
For our feast last weekend, I cooked a chicken dish from the Caucasus, a geopolitical region between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The region was once a crossroads of trade between Asia and Europe. These cultural influences,along with the unique geography of the land have created an enviable culinary tradition. The post-Soviet state of Georgia has a cuisine that is rich with fruits, pomegranates, spices, nuts, rice and meat (but not rabbit). According to Georgian legend, God took a supper break while creating the world. He became so involved with his meal that he inadvertently tripped over the high peaks of the Caucasus, spilling his food onto the land below. The land blessed by Heaven’s table scraps was Georgia.
The recipe I chose is chicken baked with an earthy pomegranate and walnut sauce – perfect for autumn, with a side of steamed runner beans and chard AND rice pilaf made with golden raisins. Not only is this dish rich and savoury, but it is very beautiful, scattered with ruby pomegranate seeds. Shouldn’t our food be a feast for the eyes as well?
“Every Georgian dish is a poem.”
Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce
- 4 boneless whole chicken breasts, or a chicken cut into 8 pieces
- 3 pomegranates
- ¾ cup shelled walnuts, ground or broken into small pieces
- 1 small onion or 2 shallots, minced
- Salt and fresh black pepper
- Flour for dredging
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch of ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Cut each breast in half lengthwise. Cut 2 of the pomegranates in half and press out the juice with a reamer. Break the third pomegranate open and extract the seeds, working over a bowl to catch the juices. You should have approximately 2/3 cup pomegranate juice and 2/3 – 1 cup seeds.
Season the chicken with salt and fresh black pepper. Dredge them in flour, shaking off the excess. Heat the butter in a frying pan and lightly brown the chicken on both sides over high heat. Transfer to a baking dish. Lower the heat to medium and cook the onions or shallots for 3 minutes, or until soft, adding the walnuts halfway through. At this point you may need to add more butter to the pan.
Deglaze the pan with lemon juice. Add the pomegranate juice, stock, cinnamon, coriander, sugar and a little salt and pepper. Simmer for a minute and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper, sugar and perhaps a squeeze of lemon. The sauce should be balanced between sweet and sour. Raise the heat and reduce the sauce to coating consistency, in which it is slightly thick and clings to a clean spoon.
Cover the chicken with the sauce and bake for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle the chicken with the remaining pomegranate seeds and serve at once.