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roasted chicken with sumac, za’atar and lemon

I’ve made some promises to you recently and thought with this post I might make good on a few of them at once. I’ve promised bright and fragrant dishes from sunny climates to chase the winter doldrums; I’ve promised a special Sunday dinner, and a wonderful recipe for roasted chicken.  And you clever readers might have guessed too that you’d be seeing still more of Ottolenghi here. And you are. And because we’ve talked so much of onions with the last couple spreenkles, we might as well throw them into the mix as well. This is a veritable shrmorgasbord (how in the world do you spell that word? I’ll google it!) a veritable  smörgâsbord  of promises kept.

I’ve spoken before (in the roasted eggplant with yogurt sauce and pomegranates recipe) of two spices essential in Middle Eastern cooking – you won’t find them at Safeway or Krogers. But I hope you won’t let that deter you! You can find them on line easily (google!) or at a Middle Eastern market if you have one near you. They are Sumac (powdered deep red, tart like a lemon, or cranberries, wonderful!) and a spice blend called za’atar, fragrant and delicious!  Neither is expensive at all and they’ll last you for some time. (You’ll be thinking of sending thank-you notes and possibly even flowers – I love tulips! – for suggesting you add them to your spice cupboard.)

More familiar though to your nose and palate are cinnamon and allspice. Those too become part of the amazing perfume of this dish.

I want you to know – just as an aside – that I never ever put him up to it, but sprees-grateful -guinea-pig may be chiming in on this dish. He’s positively wild for it.

The recipe is very straight-forward and simple to prepare (once you have the right ingredients.) The chicken (free-range, vegetarian-fed is best) will marinate for several hours to over-night. The flavors, other-worldly-good, and the onions, of my gosh, the onions! (You expect this from me now, right? If I love something, you won’t have a moment’s doubt about it.  I   l o v e    t h i s   d i s h !  It’s from Ottolenghi, and he’s an artist and a genius in the kitchen!  Cooking is all about a celebration of ingredients for Ottolenghi, and lucky for us, we’re invited to the party.)

Let’s start with just a little celebration of the red onion, so humble, so under-appreciated and so crazy good when prepared right…

This recipe calls for two red-onions, thinly sliced…

even their mess manages to be on the image & you'll see

Roasted Chicken with Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon

  • 1 large organic or free-range chicken, divided into quarters – breast & wing, and leg & thigh
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1½ teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon sumac
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 200 ml (almost 7 ounces) chicken stock
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons za-atar
  • 1 generous Tablespoon (20 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1¾ ounces (50 grams) pine nuts – a generous ½ cup
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a large bowl, or ceramic baking dish, mix the chicken with the onions, garlic, olive oil, spices (except for za’atar), lemon slices, stock, salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a baking tray large enough to accommodate all the chicken pieces lying flat and spaced apart. (Lining with parchment paper will make clean-up easier.) Chicken pieces should be skin-side up.

Sprinkle with the za’atar and put the tray in the oven. Roast for 30 – 40 minutes, until the chicken is colored and just cooked through. (Internal breast temperature 160-165°F – 71-72°C.)

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small frying pan, add the pine nuts and a pinch of salt and cook over a moderate heat, stirring constantly until they turn golden. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the fat.

Transfer the hot chicken and onions to a serving platter and finish with the chopped parsley, scattered pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil. You can sprinkle on more za’atar and sumac if you like.

Alongside this dish were cumin roasted whole young carrots and rice pilaf.  But equally good & more traditional would be to serve it with a garlicky yogurt sauce (made with Greek yogurt, crushed garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper) and warmed pita bread.

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36 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful photography – you really are no slouch. I love sumac and z’atar although it does tend to sit in my cupboards rather than on a chicken – have to change that.

    January 31, 2012
    • Thanks, Roger! Oh yes, definitely, that’s something you’ll want to change!

      January 31, 2012
  2. Spreesgratefulguineapig #

    All I have to say is OMG! 5++++++ on the portly rodent scale.

    January 31, 2012
    • Well, that didn’t take you long at ALL guinea!

      January 31, 2012
  3. mizvaldes #

    I so love your photos. You make me want to either give up or work harder. I think I’ll work harder.

    January 31, 2012
    • Oh thank you, very much! (Don’t THINK of giving up though!)

      January 31, 2012
  4. Fantastic – love the spices but haven´t used them much since the heat of summer. Need to sort that out. And we have the vegetarian free range chickens, the organic lemons and the spice mixes my mum makes for me…what am I waiting for?!

    January 31, 2012
    • I was about to ask! 🙂

      January 31, 2012
  5. Ohmygosh!! How do you do this again and again? Those red onion scraps are to die for, and this looks (and even in my head, smells) so delicious. You truly are a master at this. Writing, photos, recipes and all.

    January 31, 2012
    • You love the red onion scraps? Why does this not surprise me that you, the collage artist, would love scraps of lovely color in thin papery bits? Thank you Ashley for the sweet words!

      January 31, 2012
  6. I love that first onion, sliced open and bared.
    Where do you get these spices in Portland, Spree? New Seasons?
    I’m gonna cook this for some hungry boys!

    January 31, 2012
  7. That looks amazing!

    January 31, 2012
  8. peasepudding #

    I love this recipe too and have made it a few times, always a hit. Looks lovely!

    January 31, 2012
  9. This sounds like a great recipe, Spree, one that I’m surely going to try. I just wish I could come close to your photography and presentation. This post is really a thing of beauty, on all counts. Changing gears, I, too, shop at the Spice House, although it’s close enough that I can drive to the Evanston location. I love going there and just walking around. It’s one errand that I look forward to running, each and every time!

    January 31, 2012
    • John, such kind words…they really touch! Thank you so much. And you have a Spice House in your back yard?! Oh that would be so lovely, and an errand I’d love to run! If I make it to Chicago again, Evanston’s a stop I’ll make for sure, and I’ll be hoping my cart runs into yours!

      February 1, 2012
      • Coincidentally, I spoke with a fellow Spice House shopper today and mentioned that I was heading to Spice House for some za-atar and sumac. She suggested I go to a Lebanese bakery in my old neighborhood. I did and it was a treasure trove of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spices. I bought my spices and made this dish for dinner. It was delicious, a welcome change from any of my usual preparations. Thanks, Spree, I’ll be making this chicken dish again and again. It’s a win/win. I got a great recipe and a new source for spices. 🙂

        February 2, 2012
        • YOU have just made my day, John! Aside from being a little jealous that you have a Lebanese bakery near enough to drop by, AND you can get spices there, I’m excited for you that you found such a place! This is too hard to fully express without all the hand gestures I normally employ! Oh so lucky you are! 🙂 and it makes me so happy to hear you liked your roasted chicken! Thanks so much for letting me know!

          February 2, 2012
  10. Now there’s a glorious sounding and looking concoction! So many favorites in one dish that I might just sit there at the table gazing and taking deeeeeeep breaths until just before the chicken was too cooled–and then eat until I could eat not one atom more. Like John, I’m truly inspired by and no small bit envious of your photographic skills!

    January 31, 2012
    • Kathryn! You of ALL people have no business being jealous! You are the most artistically articulate person I’ve ever had the pleasure to “meet”! But thank you all the same for your very kind words! xo

      February 1, 2012
  11. Your pictures are breath-taking.You can even make onion peel look beautiful although I have to say I have always found the hues of red onions tempting.I hope that someday my pictures can be as good as yours
    The flavors in this recipe are very similar to a traditional dish here called musakhan. It is basically roasted chicken with plenty of sumac, onions and spices. It is served over a special bread that is baked over hot stones. I love your recipe though becuase it has the same flavors with less work. I just might make this today

    January 31, 2012
    • Sawsan…you know…it’s nothing i “did” with the onion skins…I just “saw” them…and you’ve seen them too! And I think your photography is Beautiful! And about this recipe – it’s just as you say, a simplified version of musakhan! 🙂 Hope you’ll enjoy it! (And you are SO kind to have tagged it on FB! I appreciate that so much!)

      February 1, 2012
  12. This looks and sounds divine! I can’t wait to try this. Thanks for the inspiration.

    February 1, 2012
    • Yip, Lula, it pretty much is divine. 🙂

      February 1, 2012
  13. I recently made something quite similar to this! Although taken from a traditional Armenian recipe my grandma would cook for us. Looks delicious!

    February 1, 2012
    • Oh, Gabriella, I love hearing things like this! Thank you so much!

      February 1, 2012
  14. Wow, looks so delicious, love your pictures though… I like the flavors you put to chicken, it’s the same spice we use to make the Palestinian Musakhan like what Sawsan describe it.
    Thanks so much for sharing….

    February 1, 2012
    • I’m so happy to share..thanks so much for leaving a comment!

      February 1, 2012
  15. Just got in the door from a 5.5 hour trip.. and now I’ve fallen in love. Tell “sprees-grateful -guinea-pig” he’d better save some of this dish for me!! I’m hungry and it’s been a long few days and I should have come home to this dish of a dish:) “sprees-grateful-guinea-pig” should tell my “grateful-guinea-pig” that even take-out would have been nice…
    ps So fun to find you on Facebook… it’s like mini-Spreenkles.. micro-Spreenkles (had to recall the mini and the micro-mini to figure that one out..) xo Smidge

    February 4, 2012
    • Smidge, if I’d known what you were going through on that trip of yours, I’d have wanted this waiting for you when you walked through the door. You deserved some warm and comforting welcome-home food! xo

      February 6, 2012
  16. You need to publish a cookbook! Every photo is perfections and the recipes? Oh my!!!!

    February 8, 2012
    • Cyndi, thanks SO much!

      February 8, 2012
  17. Great photography. This looks delicious – I love roast dinners so I’m sure this would be a welcome twist on an old favourite!

    February 11, 2012
  18. Oh my, the flavors in this are right up my alley. Lovely!

    January 24, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. A Taste of the Middle East ※ Chicken With Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon | life through the kitchen window
  2. Middle Eastern-Inspired Beef Stew with Cucumber Mint Couscous | life through the kitchen window

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