Sumac Scented Chicken

Like most of the United States, my husband and I just finished a long holiday season of noshing on some pretty fantastic food. Very rich, very fattening, mmm…. I’ll meet you for our tryst next year, cornbread dressing! Same time, same place?

Sadly after years of use, my food sealer finally died. As my luck would have it, this occurred during the holidays, leaving me hanging with leftovers. Which leads to the other day, browsing the local strip mall hoping for a deal on a new food sealer.  Passing by an unassuming restaurant, just a hole in the wall cafe serving Mediterranean cuisine, this seemed to be the perfect option. With the fat laden feeling of gaining at least 10 lbs, for me, the new year always brings about cravings for fresh and clean flavors.

Sitting at the table, I looked around and started to doubt my choice. The decor was a little too well kept and too purposeful, like any generic corporate run eatery.  A lot of times I gravitate towards gritty, no frills little places where I imagine someone’s Grandparents are in the back sweating over a stove preparing authentic food from generations of passed down knowledge.  The waiter brought by a menu and I decided on the chicken brochettes described as grilled pieces of chicken breast marinated in yogurt, spices, herbs, grilled peppers, onion and couscous.

After I received my meal, I was so glad that I had been too bloated to concede to my preconceived judgments of the authenticity of the food. A delightful plate with subtle, bright citrus flavors, I couldn’t pick out exactly what the seasonings were on my chicken. I literally had never tasted anything like it, so clean, yet earthy at the same time. Was it ground olives? It kind of looked like that and it kind of tasted like that, but not quite.  Hmmm….. When the waiter returned to see about us, I had to ask him. “Oh, that is sumac.” Sumac, I had never heard of this. Of course, I was intrigued.

Researching sumac, I found out that it is a spice from berries of a wild bush that grows in Mediterranean areas. The berries are ground into a tangy, purple-red powder.  I luckily found sumac at the local market, but it would be available at a Middle Eastern market or an online spice store.  Using a whole chicken (I prefer dark meat, hubbie prefers white meat), I recreate the subtle, yet fresh flavors from that meal.

Sumac Scented Chicken

Sumac Scented Chicken
Sumac Scented Chicken

Sumac Scented Chicken

1 whole chicken, 4-6 lbs

1/2 cup plain yogurt, I used greek style

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 TBSP sumac

1 TBSP finely minced mint leaves

salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, mix together yogurt, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, garlic, cumin, sumac, mint, salt and pepper.

***NOTE:   Raw poultry and the poultry juices can easily contaminate other foods, so it is extremely important that extreme caution is taken in the storage and preparation of the chicken. ***

The first thing to do with your chicken after you have removed it from its packaging, is to remove the giblets and neck bone from the body cavity. The giblets are usually wrapped up and deposited in the abdominal cavity. You could reserve the giblets and neck bone to prepare soups, gravy etc. I keep a bag of parts in my freezer for stock. If you are going to use these parts later on, they should immediately be transferred to the freezer. With a chicken you also need to check to see whether the kidneys have been removed. The kidneys are located in the tail end of the bird, in the abdominal cavity and they are a dark red color. If the kidneys are still in place, they can easily be removed by using your fingers. For this recipe, I cut the backbone out of the chicken with kitchen shears. This is so that the chicken will lay down flatter for the grill.

Place the chicken in a large bowl and massage the yogurt marinade on all sides. Place in the refrigerator ( away from all other food), to marinate for at least 2 hours and not to exceed 48 hours.

Over low heat, grill the chicken for 30 minutes, bones side down. Carefully flip chicken over, meat side down. Grill for 30 minutes more. When chicken reaches internal temperature of 165 degrees F, it is ready. Serve warm and refrigerate any leftovers.

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