Pauline’s Vegeta Chickena
I say chicken, Pauline says chickena.
In Pazova this spring, I noticed Jaro was often using an ingredient called Vegeta in his cooking. He sprinkled it liberally over the Zapekana Fazule before it went into the oven. It was used with roast chicken, and I noticed its use in Slovakia as well, often served with French fries. But what was this Vegeta, and why hadn’t I heard of it before?
Vegeta was created in Yugoslavia by a Croatian in 1958; too late for Pauline to know about it – she left the country in 1938. By the 1960’s, it was widely used across communist Yugoslavia, and the Slovaks in Vojvodina started to cook with it too. In 1967 its used expanded beyond the country and entered into the USSR and Hungary, and soon after, into Austria and Czechoslovakia. Today it can be found in all 5 continents, and is still in frequent use across Eastern Europe.
Vegeta appears to me to be seasoned salt. A bag of Vegeta contains primarily salt (a whopping 56% of the content is the blood pressure raiser), along with spices, dehydrated vegetables (such as carrots and onions), sugar and cornstarch. While low in fat, it is somewhat high in carb content.
The spices are the secret ingredient. In Leamington, my dad, Jerry, grows an herb called Vegeta – maybe this is one of the secret ingredients? Today you can find squat, round cans of Vegeta in Ontario in Zayre’s, and in Northern Virginia in the Russian Gourmet Market in Herndon.
While in Slovakia, I depended on Pauline’s daughter, Lily, to act as the interpreter. She did a great job, and the Slovak came back fairly easily to her. It wasn’t Lily’s memory of Slovak that was the problem, however; it was the dialect she learned. The Slovak Pauline taught her children in Canada was “old country” Slovak from Vojvodina which sounds archaic to people in Slovakia today (indeed, it is the way Slovak was spoken over 200 years ago). And we were surprised to learn that some of the so called Slovak words Pauline taught her kids were actually made up by Pauline herself. The word for chicken, for example. In Slovak, chicken is “kura.” In Pauline’s Canadian Slovak, it was “chickena.”
I decided to do the recipe below in honor of Pauline, imagining that she would have made it this way had she stayed in Vojvodina during WWII, and had learned about Vegeta. This is based on her grand nephew -in law Jaro’s recipe for roast chicken. Serves 4-6 people.
Pauline’s Vegeta Chickena
- 1 whole chickena (preferably a 2-3 lb free range chicken from the neighbor down the road)
- Paprika – 1 tbsp
- Garlic – 1 head
- Vegeta – 2 tbsp
- Olive oil – about ¼ cup
- Beer- 1 cup
- Carrots – 3 whole, cut up
- Onions – 1 whole, quartered
- Potatoes – about 1 cup of small potatoes, or 3 larger ones quartered
- Rinse and pat the chicken dry, taking out the innards (preferably 1 hr before roasting)
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees
- Rub the chickena with the olive oil
- Sprinkle pepper inside and out
- Sprinkle the chickena all over lightly with paprika
- Toss cloves of garlic in the cavity of the chickena, and tuck a few under the skin
- Bake the chickena on high heat for 20 minutes, breast side down, then turn the over down to 375 degrees and turn the chickena breast side up
- Toss in the vegetables around the chickena and sprinkle with a glass of beer, sprinkling some over the chickena too.
- After an hour, sprinkle about 2 tbsp of vegeta over the chickena and vegetables
- Take temperature of chickena: should be 180 degrees when done.
Serve the chickena with the vegetables on the side. The leftover chickena carcass makes a tasty chickena stock too. Bon apetit, Grandma.