What Is Giouvetsi?

Terrie Brockmann

Giouvetsi is an age-old Greek dish consisting of beef, lamb or chicken baked in a tomato-based sauce with pasta and other ingredients. There are multiple spellings for the word, including yiouvetsi, youvetsi, yuvetsi and others; and a cook who is looking for recipes should search under these alternative names as well as giouvetsi. True Greek renditions of the dish use an orzo-type pasta called kritharaki, and orzo, risoni or hilopites can be substituted if the Greek pasta is not available. Typically, the dish has very few ingredients other than the pasta, a protein and a liquid, such as tomato juice or wine; often, cooks will add cheese just before serving the dish.

Kritharakia pasta, which is used to make giouvetsi.
Kritharakia pasta, which is used to make giouvetsi.

Traditionally, cooks baked giouvetsi in clay pots. Modern cooks use a variety of cooking pots, from clay pots to pressure cookers. Most recipes advise the cook to make the dish in two stages. The cook sears large cubes of meat on the stove top or grill and then uses a low temperature oven to bake them for hours in tomatoes and certain liquids. When the meat is very tender, the cook adds the pasta and continues to cook it until the pasta is tender and the flavors have infused throughout the dish.

Chicken breasts can be used to make giouvetsi.
Chicken breasts can be used to make giouvetsi.

Generally, cooks use whatever meat is on hand, such as lamb, beef, veal or chicken. The cook bakes the meat in a liquid, which often is broth, water and wine, as well as tomatoes in their juices. The recipe is good for tenderizing tough meats because of the low oven temperature and the acid of the tomatoes. Typically, the cook cuts the meat into large cubes.

When using poultry, such as chicken or turkey, the cook does not cube the meat but rather bakes cuts of the poultry. Depending on the desired effect, a person might cut a whole chicken into halves, fourths or individual pieces, or he or she might use large chunks of boneless chicken breast. A cook needs to be careful not to overcook the chicken in the first stage, because the meat continues to cook while the pasta is cooking.

Traditional Greek cooks use a pasta called kritharakia or kritharaki in giouvetsi. Many cooks substitute the rice-shaped orzo, risoni or risi or the flat noodle hilopites when kritharaki is not available. Kiritharakia is made with barley flour, but many people substitute wheat pasta for the barley pasta. Most of the orzo sold in modern times is made with semolina, which is durham wheat flour. Risoni or risi is a smaller version of orzo and needs less cooking time.

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