If there is a country with a love affair with stews, it has to be Georgia. From hearty kharcho to vibrant chashushuli to veggie-friendly ajapsandali, this small country in the South Caucasus really knows how to make a killer stew. And while there are countless different varieties of these kinds of dishes in Georgia, there is one that may be the most unique and (dare I say it?) the most delicious of the Georgian stews: chakapuli.
A springtime stew made with lamb or veal, sour plums, white wine and plenty of tarragon, this chakapuli recipe modernizes the technique a bit and results in a seriously decadent and bright stew that will knock your socks off.
Chakapuli kind of epitomizes springtime in Georgia and its bright, vibrant flavours are the perfect ushers of warmer weather after a long and cold winter. Traditionally eaten at Easter (which is by far the most important holiday in Georgia), this dish is one of the most popular dishes in the country. Using a lot of traditional Georgian flavours and ingredients, it’s also relatively easy to make.
So if you’re keen to try your hand at this classic Georgia stew, then look no further than this chakapuli recipe. You’re sure to fall in love with the unique flavours of this bright dish.
What is Chakapuli?
Before I jump into the actual chakapuli recipe, let’s first discuss what exactly this stew is. Well, as mentioned previously, chakapuli is a Georgian stew that is typically made with lamb or veal (I’ve most commonly seen it with lamb, however) and is most typically eaten in the springtime. Georgia has a fiercely seasonal cuisine and most of the key ingredients in chakapuli (lamb or veal, tarragon and unripe cherry plums specifically) are only available in spring.
Because of its association with the spring, chakapuli is a mainstay on the table at Easter supras throughout the country. As the ingredients begin to come available in late April to early May (Georgian Orthodox Easter is later on the calendar than Catholic or Protestant Easter), people in the country rush to make this delicious stew.
Chakapuli is traditionally made by simply adding lamb, tkemali (unripe cherry plums), tarragon, onions and garlic to a pot, covering it with wine and water and boiling it for an hour or two. My chakapuli recipe uses all of the traditional ingredients, however, adds a couple of extra steps to make it even more complex and flavourful.
And if you’re looking for another great stewed lamb recipe, make sure to check out my bright and flavourful braised lamb shanks! It’s not Georgian, but it’s extremely tasty.
How to Make Chakapuli
So now it’s time to get into how one actually makes chakapuli! Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve made a couple of tweaks and updates to the traditional method of making chakapuli that I believe make a world of difference while not sacrificing the typical flavours of the stew.
The first alteration comes with browning the lamb. Browning meat for any stew or braise is essential for building complex, meaty flavours and I’ve found that chakapuli is no different. So, in a large Dutch oven or pot (make sure it’s oven safe!) over medium heat, add a bit of neutral oil and heat until shimmering and sear your lamb on all sides until well browned — about 2-3 minutes per side.
When browning the meat, you will likely need to work in batches to avoid crowding the pan. If you cram all of your meat with no space in between it, the meat will simply steam and not brown and then this extra step will be for nought. So just be patient and brown the meat — it really doesn’t take that long.
Once your lamb has been browned, transfer it to a plate and set it aside. Turn your heat to medium-low and add your diced onion. Cook the onion until softened and translucent, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the onions release their moisture. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, only about thirty seconds.
Now, deglaze the pan with a dry white wine. I really recommend using a Georgian amber wine for this if you can get your hands on it, but I do understand that they are both hard to come by outside of Georgia and can be expensive as they are imported. So any full-bodied, dry white wine will do, but try to use one that you would also drink yourself. An oaked Chardonnay or Bordeaux Blanc are great alternative options.
Bring the wine up to a simmer and then allow to simmer and reduce for about five to ten minutes, just until the pungent alcoholic smell has cooked off. Now, add your lamb back into the pot along with any accumulated juices.
Toss in a bundle of tarragon stems and a handful of unripe cherry plums (tkemali) if you can find them — though these are completely optional as I don’t believe they are widely available outside of the Caucasus.
Pour over some chicken stock — I highly recommend using homemade chicken stock for this but if you don’t have any, then use any good-tasting low-sodium chicken stock — and bring this all up to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, cover the pot and transfer it to a 160°C/320°F oven and cook for about 2 hours, or until the lamb is impeccably tender and a knife can be inserted with little resistance.
Remove the pot from the oven and bring it back to the stovetop. Uncover and bring to a simmer over low heat.
Remove the tarragon bundle and stir in some green tkemali sauce (this can be purchased online here or you can use my tkemali recipe to make it at home. Don’t leave it out, it’s absolutely essential to the flavour of this chakapuli recipe). Allow to simmer for about thirty minutes, until the sauce had reduced and thickened slightly.
Now, all there is left to do is serve and enjoy! Garnish with a few fresh tarragon leaves, if desired and with an ample amount of crusty bread. Despite the heaviness of the lamb, the dish pairs quite well with the same full-bodied white that you used in the stew. Or, if you want to save it to drink, pair it with a tannic Georgian amber wine.
Chakapuli: Georgian Lamb & Tarragon Stew
This lamb stew is traditionally served on Easter in Georgia and is the quintessential spring dish. Intensely savoury with vegetal notes from plenty of tarragon and a distinct zing from tkemali (sour plum) sauce, this stew is sure to soon be a favourite.
- 1kg (2lbs) lamb stew meat
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 500ml (2 cups) dry white wine*
- 30g (1oz) fresh tarragon stalks, tied in a bundle with cooking twine
- 200g (7oz) unripe cherry plums (optional)
- 1 litre (4 cups) low sodium chicken stock
- 120ml (1/2 cup) green tkemali sauce
- Preheat oven to 160°C/320°F
- Pat lamb dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper. Over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or oven-safe pot, heat a tablespoon of neutral oil until shimmering. Working in batches, sear the meat until it is well browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until well-softened, about 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits as the onions release their moisture. Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Pour in wine and bring to a simmer. Cook until the alcohol smell has dissipated and it has reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Take this time to scrape up any remaining browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add the lamb back into the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add the tarragon bundle and the plums, if using. Pour over the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Turn off the heat and over the pot. Transfer to the oven and cook until lamb is very tender and the stew is fragrant, about two hours.
- Remove the pot from the over, uncover, remove the tarragon bundle and bring to a simmer over low heat. Stir in tkemali sauce and allow to simmer until the sauce is reduced and thickened slightly, about 30 more minutes. Portion into bowls and serve immediately, preferably with a side of crusty bread and a Georgian amber wine.
*If possible, use a Georgian amber wine here. If that's not available, a full-bodied white wine like an oaked Chardonnay or Bordeaux Blanc will work well
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 489Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 180mgSodium: 219mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 57g
Nutritional information is automatically generated and provided as guidance only. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Chakapuli is one of the most flavourful and unique Georgian stews out there and it is sure to be an instant crowd-pleaser. Despite the long cooking time, it is easy to put together and is mostly inactive!
Are you searching for the perfect chakapuli recipe? Have any questions about this dish? Let me know in the comments!
If I cannot find plum sauce , what would you suggest in replace of that ?
Tkemali is a relatively essential flavour in this dish – I do have a recipe for it if you want to try your hand at making it: https://nofrillskitchen.com/tkemali-recipe/
Otherwise, I haven’t tested it without the sauce and I don’t know if there is anything quite like it that would work as a substitute.