I must be one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s greatest fans. I love his style of middle-eastern fusion cuisine. I own all six of his cookbooks, the most recent being Sweet, and I hardly ever make desserts but I had to complete my set. My first purchase was Jerusalem and over the years I have filled in the set backwards and forwards chronologically and I am happy to report that I still go back to all of them for new ideas and recipes.
Over seven years ago, when I was traveling in the Middle East with friends, I had the opportunity to dine at a Canadian’s family home for dinner in Jordan, and the housekeeper-cook made us a traditional Arabic dish called M’sakhan. She poached bone-in chicken pieces in sumac, cinnamon sticks, lemon juice and other spices….in the meanwhile browning onions in more than a 1/2 a bottle of olive oil! We were quietly (I hope we were quiet) aghast at the amount of oil used to brown these onions mixed with spices and pine nuts. The final dish was a flat bread topped with a layer of onions, then the chicken pieces and the rest of the onions on top and sprinkled with lots of sumac and baked until all warmed through.
Although it was very tasty, and I knew that the bread soaked up a lot of the oil, I knew that I would never make this dish at home because I just could not use that amount of oil. And alas, I did not take pictures of the lovely housekeeper who took time to give us a cooking lesson and the food, as I wasn’t into taking pictures of food back then.
All this to say is that I’m thrilled to have found a simplified version of M’sakhan in Ottolenghi, The Cookbook called Roast chicken with sumac, za’atar, and lemon. There was not any za’atar in the Jordanian home recipe but I have seen it in many Palestinian versions. I further simplified the recipe by using boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs.
The three main spices to marinate the chicken are cinnamon, allspice and plenty of sumac, of course.
And instead of caramelizing the onions in vast amounts of olive oil, they are marinated in the fridge with the chicken in vegetable broth, sliced lemons, crushed garlic, spices above, and salt and pepper overnight (but a few hours in the fridge will work fine).
Za’atar, a middle eastern spice blend, which is a combination of herbs and sesame seeds, is sprinkled over the chicken before putting into a pre-heated 400°F oven.
Below is the chicken and onions after marinating overnight in the fridge.
After sprinkling on the za’atar, the pan is ready to go into the oven.
About 40 minutes later, the chicken is done and the aroma is wonderful.
Transferred to a serving dish and sprinkled with additional za’atar, sumac and toasted pine nuts, topped with a little sprinkle of olive oil and we are ready to eat.
The earthiness of the za’atar, the tang of the sumac and lemon and the crunch of the toasted pine nuts all add to this delicious chicken dinner. Give it a try. Enjoy!
Roasted Sumac Chicken with Za'atar and Lemon
original recipe from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook, Roast Chicken with sumac, za’atar and lemon
3 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs (use one or the other or both)
2 red onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1½ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp sumac
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp za’atar
4 tbsp. toasted pine nuts**, extra sumac, za’atar and/or chopped parsley, for garnish
- In a big bowl or serving dish, mix the chicken pieces with the onions, garlic, olive oil, spices, lemon, vegetable stock. Cover, and leave in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
- Heat the oven to 400°F. Place the chicken, onions and marinade in a deep sided roasting pan and sprinkle za’atar on top. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken has browned and just cooked through.
- Transfer the hot chicken and onions to a serving platter, and scatter over the pine nuts, parsley, if using, and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with more za’atar and sumac before serving for extra colour.
** I like to keep toasted pine nuts around…so I buy a package of pine nuts, brown them on medium heat in a frying pan (no oil necessary), cool them and keep them in a container in the freezer and have them available as I need them.