Saturday 3 November 2012

Yotam Ottolenghi’s roast chicken with za’atar, sumac and lemon

Like a lot of people living abroad, I prefer reading and cooking recipes from my mother tongue. An English friend lent me her copy of ‘Yotam Ottolenghi: The Cookbook’ a few weeks ago and I drooled over the recipes. I quickly realised however, that I had never even heard of at least one ingredient in most of them.
Yotam Ottolonghi's roast chicken with za'atar, sumac and lemon

Knowing how difficult it can be to find even simple, everyday (in Ireland and the UK) ingredients in Belgian supermarkets, I wondered if I’d be able to find some of these really exotic ones. So I decided to cook at least one recipe using ‘locally-sourced’ ingredients. I figured this couldn’t be too difficult given Belgium’s multi-ethnic population make-up, all I needed was the time to go hunting and knowing where to look. I ran out of time though as the chicken I’d bought needed to be cooked, and kind of cheated by going to mmmmh on the Chaussée de Charleroi, 92 and found the two ingredients I was missing: za’atar and sumac.

Sumac is a tree/shrub, the fruits of which are ground into a deep-red or purple powder used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to salads or meat.
Za’atar is a generic name for a family of related Middle Eastern herbs from the oregano, basil thyme and savory family. It is also (confusingly) a condiment made from the dried herb(s), mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac, and often salt, as well as other spices (thanks Wikipedia for these definitions). Both types are used throughout the Middle East.  I used the condiment version.

So… to work.

1 chicken of your preference (organic, free-range, none of the above, whatever you like)
2 red onions, thinly sliced (I quartered mine, rebel that I am)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1½ teaspoons ground allspice (I’d none, so I used smoked paprika which is not a substitute for allspice)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon sumac
1 lemon, thinly sliced
200 ml chicken stock
1½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons za’atar

I combined all the spices, except the za’atar, in a bowl with the garlic and the olive oil, and rubbed this into the chicken skin. I left this to marinade for a couple of hours.

When you’re ready to cook, heat your oven to 200°C. I filled the bottom of the roasting dish with the 200ml of chicken stock, the quartered onions and put the slices of lemon all over the chicken skin. Sprinkle the za’atar over the lemons and pop the bird into your hot oven for 40 minutes to an hour, until the chicken is colored and cooked through. I had a 2.2kg chicken, and it took about 1 hour 20 minutes to cook.

The chicken was tasty, and smelled really good. It was a nice change from my usual roast chicken (lots of garlic and lemons, with some Vermouth in the roasting tin).  Next time I’d leave the za’atar spice mix off  - there was something about the taste I didn’t like as much as the sumac, which was delicious, and I’ve also used it in couscous. 

Domini Kemp also recreates some of Ottolenghi's recipes, this time from his new book, in todays Irish Times

Did you try cooking this chicken or something else from Ottolenghi's recipes, or using sumac or za'atar? Did you like it? What else have you tried using these or other unusual spices in? 

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