Roast Chicken with Za'atar and Mandarin Oranges

This recipe combines the savory flavor of za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix that can be purchased in Middle Eastern and Israeli food shops. Spice mixes vary, but will often include sumac, oregano, hyssop, sesame seeds and salt. Za'atar is a ubiquitous ingredient in Palestinian and more recently Israeli cooking.  Za'atar is often used in combination with olive oil or leben (Middle Eastern yogurt) as a dip for pita and lafah (a flat bread related to pita, without the hollow center). I have a challah recipe, Challah with Za'atar and Apricots  that combines the savory, slightly salty taste of za'atar with the sweet/sour taste of dry apricots.

Za'atar also works well combined with vegetables, chicken and lamb.

I like working with complicated yeast dough, but when it comes to main dishes, the fewer ingredients the better and the simpler the cooking method the more I like it. This recipe is a simple roasted chicken that is marinaded overnight in a citrus-za'atar mixture and roasted in the oven. The sauce that is created by the cooked chicken and marinade is reduced and returned to the roasting pan. The remaining sauce is a bit sharp and sour. Although it would be more typical to serve this with rice or bulgar, I like to pair it with the sweet/peppery taste of Yerushalmi kugel. This recipe makes 3-4 servings.

Active prep time is 10-15 minutes and active cooking about an hour. The use of a zip lock plastic bag to marinate the chicken minimizes clean up.

If you cannot find za'atar locally, it is available on-line. One source is Pereg gourmet foods in Flushing NY .

A simple recipe can be found at Bon Appetite. Sumac is also available at Pereg's on-line shop:
Combine 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, 1 Tbsp. sumac, 1 Tbsp. ground cumin, and 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds. Stir in 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

1 gallon plastic zip lock bag (optional) for marinating the chicken
shallow baking pan
grease separator (for separating the cooking liquid from fat and small sauce pan

1/2 c lemon juice (fresh is great, but bottled juice works)
1/3 c vegetable oil (olive or canola)
1 large red onion , sliced 
3-4 slightly crushed garlic cloves
2 Tbsp za'atar
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

2-3 lbs chicken thighs (4-5 pieces) - skin on

1 can mandarin oranges in light syrup (drain the syrup before adding the fruit)

1. Combine the marinade ingredients , add the chicken and marinate at least 2 hours  in the refrigerator (overnight is fine).
2. Preheat oven to 360 degrees. Pour the entire contents - chicken and marinade- into a shallow roasting pan and roast for 50 minutes. The marinade will prevent the skin from becoming crispy.
3. Pour off the liquid, separate the fat and pour the remaining sauce into a small saucepan and reduce by at least one half (this will take about 10 minutes).
4. Add the drained fruit to the cooked chicken dish.
5. Pour the reduced sauce back over the chicken.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature with rice or Yerushalmi kugel.

Another favorite chicken recipe posted at BreadandBabka: Grandma's Chicken Fricassee with mini meatballs and matzah balls.


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