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An obsession with grilling, part 35: Grilled chicken with za’atar

Grilled chicken with za'atar

Chicken on the grill is such a standard, and yet we hadn’t done it until this week. I had some friends visiting, so for the occasion, I brought out za’atar, a slightly smoky, nutty spice with sesame seeds and sumac. Variations on za’atar can be very different, from tangy to herbal, but the overall flavor profile is simply warm. It adds warmth (Emily used it in soup and on chicken as well). My blend from the Spice & Tea Exchange in De Pere (thanks, Maggie!) included thyme and sea salt in the mix; others may include oregano, basil, savory and marjoram.

The chicken recipe from “Forever Summer” that I used as inspiration doesn’t call for grilling, but that’s what I felt like doing — getting the heat OUT of my kitchen and getting the grill marks ON that bird. What follows is based on Nigella Lawson’s recipe for chicken with za’atar and a fresh cucumber-tomato salad, with a few tweaks from the girl who doesn’t know how to follow directions.

(I’ve cut up a chicken before, but never quite so messily as this time. Blame it on P being gone and me trying to prove what a fantastic chef I am (ha!) by not consulting my usual sources. Like Bitty. He knows how to cut up a chicken.)

Grilled Za’atar Chicken with Fattoush Salad
Adapted from Forever Summer, by Nigella Lawson. Serves 6.

  • 1 chicken, 3.5-4 lbs.
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons za’atar

Salt and pepper the chicken all over a day or two before you want to cook it. Let it hang out in the fridge and get juicy.

On the day when cooking happens, prep the grill with some room for indirect cooking. While the grill gets ready, cut the chicken into its component bits — wings, legs (or leg-thigh combos, if you’re lazy like me) and breasts. Leave the skin on. Toss with olive oil and za’atar (more za’atar is better!). Let it hang out again until the grill is ready. (You can, of course, do this with the salt and pepper and let it ALL marinate together for a few days, but I forgot to do this and it still tasted fantastic.)

Grill the chicken pieces over indirect heat (mostly) for at least 30 minutes, then start checking for doneness.

Fattoush Salad

  • 2 whole wheat pita breads
  • 3 fat scallions, white and light green parts, sliced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, diced (heirlooms would be delicious!)
  • 1 bunch of fresh flat-leafed parsley, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 6-8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon (extra to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sumac (I skipped this)
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut pita breads open lengthwise, so you have 4 thin halves, and lay on a baking sheet. Toast for 5 minutes.

In a bowl, combine scallions, cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, mint, and garlic. Toss salad and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt, and sprinkle over the sumac if you have it. Taste it and fix the seasonings as you go — all of the measurements are relative here. Cut the pita into triangles and serve (the pita will lose its crunch in the salad, so don’t do that part beforehand).

(Note: Got feta? Throw it in!)

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