What’s the most common complaint about barbequed chicken? Dryness.
Whether it’s a suburban chicken shop with an electric rotisserie or a Lebanese institution with a charcoal pit and toum the colour of marshmallow innards – the gold standard always seems to be how moist the chook is.
Moubadder knows this well. He grew up in Lebanon, where charcoal chicken “everywhere,” he says. “Sometimes you can have two, three or more charcoal chicken shops in the same area. You eat it with family at least once a week. Get a charcoal chook, some pickles, garlic sauce and Lebanese bread. Smear on the garlic sauce, add a bit of chicken, some chips, a pickle, make a roll and eat it. I loved that so much.”
When Moubadder arrived in Australia he did “research” all over Sydney to find the best charcoal chicken. He claims to have tasted over 500 spots. “Then we were like, ‘Why don’t we just open one close to home?’” he says.
That’s how Henrietta was born. There the goal was to replicate the flavour and colour of traditional Lebanese charcoal chicken – and never, ever serve a dry piece of chicken.
“[At first] we didn’t know exactly how to do it, to be honest,” says Moubadder,. But eventually, his team came to two conclusions: the chicken has to be cooked over real charcoal, and it must be brined.
Cooking with charcoal
Charcoal cooking can be notoriously tricky for an inexperienced chef, but having the right tools makes it far more achievable.
“The whole idea of cooking over charcoal is it gives flavour,” says Moubadder. “And different wood gives different flavour. But it can be very technical. There are a lot of variables – the time, the kind of wood, how hot you cook and how close you cook to the charcoal.”
He says a technically proficient barbeque – like the Everdure Hub II, which has an innovative fast flame ignition system, as well as the ability to control the intensity and spread of heat – is a huge benefit.
“What the Everdure does that’s brilliant is the functionality to adjust how close your meat is to the coal,” he says. “You press a button and you can bring it up or down. So, if your fire is too strong you go up a bit, and when it goes down you can lower it again.”
Created by Australian designers D+I, the Everdure Hub II has won numerous international design awards (including Good Design Awards Australia, International Design Excellence Awards, Red Dot Awards and IF World Design Guide Awards) and is championed by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal. As well as a quick start charcoal ignition system, it boasts a one touch rotisserie pole, grill and warming area – ideal for storing sides as your chook cooks.
Brining – a French technique – is not part of the Lebanese tradition. Moubadder says the more common practice there is to use a vinegar-based marinade. But brining adds moisture to the chicken. “It’s so much more moist,” he says . “A massive difference. Particularly if you add a little sugar. Not necessarily normal white sugar – we use pomegranate. But what sugar does is help caramelise the skin.”
Moubadder says a common mistake for inexperienced chefs is to obsess over the skin and burn their chook. “A chicken should take 45 minutes to an hour,” he says. “Don’t get too excited about the colour of the skin. Worry about the inside. To crisp or caramelise the skin you can bring it closer to the fire for the last 15 or 20 minutes.”
Watch Ibby Moubadder cooking charcoal chicken on the barbeque here.
Here’s how to make Henrietta’s Lebanese charcoal chicken (with added harissa) at home.
Henrietta’s Lebanese charcoal chicken with chilli harissa
Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 24 hours to brine the chook
Cooking time: 45 minutes
1 litre of water
5g lemon zest
60ml lemon juice
4 black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves
Free-range chicken (size 10–12)
100g fresh red chilli
2 red capsicums
30g peeled garlic
50ml lemon juice
5g ground cumin
5g ground coriander
2g black pepper
50ml extra virgin olive oil
Fill up a large bowl with cold water. Add zest, lemon juice, vinegar, cloves, black peppercorns, salt and finely grated garlic.
Mix well, making sure the salt is nicely dissolved in the water. Place whole chicken in the brine. Cover with lid and place in the fridge for 24 hours.
For the harissa, season the red chilli and capsicum with salt and oil. Place on charcoal grill until skin is a little brown, or even slightly burnt.
Place in a bowl and peel when cool, (leaving the chilli seeds in for extra spice).
Place chilli and garlic into a blender and blitz. Add lemon juice, oregano, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Puree until you have a fine paste.
Pat down the chicken with paper towel and season with salt.
Cook chicken over charcoal for 2 hours. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the legs and breasts. Ideally they should be done at 74°C to ensure they’re well cooked.
Brush the chicken with harissa (or place a dollop on the side) and serve.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with the Everdure. Check out the Hub II Barbeque here.