Za’atar is a piquant herb blend and condiment well-loved in Middle Eastern cuisine, varying slightly from region to region (and household to household), but often made with thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, marjoram, salt, sumac and savory. You’ll find za’atar in Arabic markets and well-stocked supermarkets, but you can also make your own blend with dried herbs. It’s fabulous on lamb, olive oil-drizzled flatbreads and this simple roast chicken recipe, a riff on a classic Palestinian dish. (The recipe comes from London’s Ottolenghi, a mini restaurant empire run by two natives of Jerusalem, one a Jewish guy of German-Italian heritage and the other his Palestinian co-chef and business partner. Peace accords? These fellows have it figured out: pass the chicken.)
I had my butcher break down the bird for me, and it roasted up remarkably juicy thanks to an overnight swim in a well-seasoned marinade. It turned out to be a terrific weeknight recipe, too: put the marinade together before bed, and after work the following day all you’ll need to do is pop the chicken in the oven for half an hour or so. (Line your baking tray with foil for quicker cleanup.) I served the chicken alongside stuffed artichokes, or try it with warm pita and a cool, garlicky tzatziki.
Roast Chicken with Za’atar
adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, 2008; serves about 4
- 1 free-range chicken, divided into quarters (backbone discarded), about 4 lb
- 2 red onions, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or crushed
- 4 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp sumac
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- scant 2 cups chicken stock or water
- 1 1/2 tsp salt + more to taste
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp za’atar
- generous 1/4 C pine nuts
- 4 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
In a large bowl, mix onions, garlic, olive oil, spices (except the za’atar), salt and pepper and stock or water. Add the chicken and toss to combine. Leave in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. With your hands, transfer the chicken, onions and lemon to a rimmed baking tray large enough to accommodate the chicken, skin-side up, in a single layer and spaced apart. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a bit of the marinade over all. Sprinkle with za’atar and roast 30-40 minutes until the chicken is browned and cooked through, or 165 degrees internal temperature. (If you prefer crispy skin, run the chicken under the broiler for a few minutes; watch carefully to avoid overcooking.)
Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, stirring, until they turn golden brown. Transfer the hot chicken and onions to a serving plate and sprinkle with parsley, pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil. Discard the lemon or leave as garnish. Sprinkle with a bit more za’atar and sumac, if desired.