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IRAQI SPICE-RUBBED CHICKEN

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Remember Freedom Fries?

You cannot go around renaming food because you’re mad at its namesake. If we did that,  we would have had to say goodbye to hamburgers, Korean BBQ, chicken Kiev, peaches (old name for Persia, AKA Iran), seltzer, French toast,  German chocolate cake, and whoever else it is we don’t like this week.

So I make no apologies for Iraqi Spice-rubbed Chicken. If you feel very strongly about it, I suppose you could call it Mesopotamian Chicken or Assyrian Chicken, but really – let go of whatever feelings you may have about the politics, and revel in the amazing flavors of the cuisine.

This is from Saveur. I have slightly adapted it. See  recipe for The Greek Layered Salad  for details about and an explanation of sumac. Also? I think if any one (or two) spices are too difficult to locate, they could be skipped here – but I am a big proponent of a well-stocked spice cabinet. If your supermarket charges an arm and a leg for Spice Islands or McCormick or other name brands, seriously consider buying herbs & spices in bulk (as I do) and keeping in an old mustard jar, or buying from a mail-order place like Penzeys or Amazon. If you intend to learn to cook, it is imperative that you not be afraid of having ingredients at hand, and using them.

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IRAQI SPICE-RUBBED CHICKEN (DJAJ BIL-BAHAH IL-ASFAR)

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 4 dried red chiles, stemmed
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 8 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 4 dried rose hips (available at health food stores)

Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Add the coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cardamom, chiles, allspice, and cloves, and cook to toast lightly, shaking the pan often, for one or two minutes until the spices become fragrant. Remove spices to a bowl (if you leave them in the pan, even off the heat, they will overcook.) Let cool.

If you have a spice grinder, grind the cooled spices in it, then mix with the other spices and mashed garlic.

If you don’t have a spice grinder, combine the toasted spices with the other spices and the mashed garlic in a blender or food processor, and blitz, stopping the machine often to scrape down the sides, until you have an unbelievably exotic-smelling blend.

Rub this spice mixture into the skin and under the skin of chicken. Discard any leftover spices (since you will have been dipping into it with hands that have been handling raw chicken).

Either grill chicken or roast in a 350 degree oven until cooked through (a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees, or a knife inserted at that point produces clear or yellow juices – if the juices run pink, it isn’t done).

Use this on whole chickens to roast, or halved/cut-up pieces. Makes enough for about 6 pounds of chicken.

Appropriate accompaniments would be rice, especially Persian jeweled rice, or couscous, plus eggplant prepared in any of a thousand ways.  I think a raw, crisp salad with a tart vinaigrette or quick pickled vegetable is required here too. Fresh summer fruit such as apricots or melon would make a perfect dessert.

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RIDICULOUSLY EASY HOMEMADE LEMON PEPPER

Lemon pepper is one of those spices/condiments that most people love, buy a bottle of, then let it sit on the shelf until it solidifies and can’t be pried apart with a machete, which leads to it being thrown out. I’m guilty of this. But I think that wouldn’t happen if lemon pepper actually tasted like lemon + pepper. Commercially-produced lemon pepper tastes less like lemon and more like salt.

We were given a lot of Meyer lemons.

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And this was after I had made lemon sauce, lemon curd, lemon pie, lemon salad dressing, lemon gin-and-tonics, and given away bags of lemons. Clearly it was time to take action.

So: take lemons and grate the zest from them. A microplane is ideal for this but a box grater works fine too.

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Below: a zested lemon.

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When you have grated the zest from the lemons, put the zest in a narrow bowl and grind in black pepper. Adjust the pepper grinder so you get fairly large pieces instead of finely ground pepper. How much to add? That’s up to you, whether you want a more lemony spice or a more peppery spice. I like more lemon, so for about 1/2 cup zest I added about 2 teaspoons ground pepper.

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Then take something like a wooden spoon, and with the handle, mash the pepper into the lemon zest so it becomes infused.

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Spread the lemon-pepper out on a sheet of waxed paper or foil, and let it sit out on the kitchen counter uncovered and undisturbed until the lemon zest is dry – one or two days.

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When the zest is dry, store the lemon pepper in a small bottle. You will find it has an actual lemon/citrus taste very unlike the commercially produced brands. Use on absolutely anything, but it’s especially good on creamy soups, roast chicken, salads, Bloody Marys, steamed vegetables like broccoli and asparagus, fettucini alfredo, baked potatoes, mixed into garlic butter, on scrambled eggs, and probably on chocolate bunnies and Peeps chicks.

Now you have a lot of zested lemons left over, which will dry out rapidly unless dealt with severely. Juice them – my life has improved immeasurably since I discovered  this lemon juicer – and pour the juice into ice cube trays.

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Once you have lemon ice cubes, store them in a freezer bag. Slip a couple into cocktails, or use  when you just need a little lemon juice but don’t want to cut open a whole lemon.

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