My mum came round for dinner last week. Those of you who learned their love of food at mother’s apron strings will be familiar with the leap of excitement and dread those words can summon. Because if there’s someone you want to impress, it’s your mum.
And so there was much scratching of head and leafing through books. Italian was out, my mum loves Italian, and she’s much better at it than me. Time to look to my own strengths and influences. In this case the Eastern Med.
Whenever anyone comes round for dinner I try to do as much as I can beforehand. But inevitably it ends up with us all in the kitchen slurping wine and chatting away while I, with increasingly frantic movements, try to hold up my side of the conversation and ensure the food’s ready on time.
Happily, this is a simple dish. I served it with some couscous and a green bean & hazelnut salad. Both came from the Ottolenghi book. This I didn’t bother to adapt much at all. I merely changed a few spices to match what I had in the cupboard.
This is easy peasy, and it looks great. The main thing is to marinade it for plenty of time. You want to make sure those flavours get jiggy with one another and spawn something beautiful.
And the quality of the chicken. This is really important, it must be a really good chicken. One that’s been allowed to roam free (or least take the odd stroll) and grow into maturity slowly and gracefully.
Whatever you do, you don’t want to get a Schwarznegger of a fowl, pumped full of steroids, anti-biotics and growth hormones. Fattened to the point where it can’t walk. It’ll look plump and shiny and white and will taste of sweet FA. And be overwhelmed by the other flavours unbalancing the dish.
Whereas if you get that slightly gamey, stringy and leaner looking bird, more Daniel Day Lewis than Arnie, it’ll have far more character and depth. Chicken is one of those meats where you can really tell the difference between battery farmed and free-range.
It got my mum’s seal of approval, so it must be good.
Serves four hungry bellies with sides, or six if you have loads of extras
This is a dead easy dish to make. The only difficulty is finding the za’atar and sumac, particularly if you’re not in a big city. The best places to look outside middle eastern grocers are anywhere that has Barts spices. my local Waitrose stocks their spice mixes including za’atar, and some Sainsbury’s do it too.
If you can’t find sumac, just squeeze over a little more lemon juice. It’s not the same, but it helps give it that citrussy kick. Instead of za’atar, mix up some equal amounts dried herbs (thyme and oregano are best) and roasted sesame seeds, it comes pretty close.
1 free range chicken jointed into four – leg & thigh, breast & wing
2 red onions – finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic – peeled and roughly crushed
4 tblsp olive oil
.5 tsp hot paprika or cayenne
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tblsp sumac
1 lemon – finely sliced into rounds
Sea salt & black pepper for seasoning
2 tblsp za’atar
A handful of chopped parsley
Put the chicken in a bowl, add the onions, galic, olive oil, paprika, cinnamon, sumac and lemon and mix well with your hands. Pour over the water, season with some black pepper, and mix again. Make sure every piece is well coated with the marinade. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight (I left it for about 24 hours).
Heat the oven to 200oC. Toast the pinenuts in the oven until they start to to turn brown – about 3-5 mins. Put the chicken pieces in a roasting tray big enough to hold it all in a single layer and pour over the marinade. Sprinkle over a little sea salt and grind over some black pepper.
Sprinkle over the za’atar and pinenuts, and a little more sumac if you like. And put it in the oven. Cook for about 40 minutes until the juices run clear when you slide a knife into the thigh. Take out and leave to rest for ten minutes or so. Sprinkle over the parsley and serve.