Since 2006, chef Joseph Abboud has been spinning new versions of Middle Eastern classics at his Melbourne restaurant, Rumi. Taking inspiration from his Lebanese heritage, as well as dishes from other Middle Eastern cuisines, Abboud has built a loyal following for making food that breaks a few rules and is full of heart.
His new cookbook, Rumi, continues that theme. Inside you’ll find some of the greatest hits from the restaurant, as well as ideas for home cooks to personalise recipes and adapt them to the seasons. This chicken dish is no different – it could be served as a centrepiece at a dinner party, or shredded to make a first-rate sandwich.
“This is a dish that I can’t believe is not more commonplace,” writes Abboud. “It is basically a chicken version of the classic Lebanese baked fish dish, samke harra. In this recipe the chicken is smothered in taratoor and finished with various nuts, parsley and chilli. This version is made with roasted chicken, but you could steam, bake or poach the chicken, too.
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“Tahini sauce, correctly called ‘taratoor’, is a versatile sauce that is traditionally used on anything from falafel to baked fish. I find myself reaching for it time and time again when looking for a creamy addition to many dishes, especially if they are vegan. We often have guests double-checking that the dishes with tahini in them are, in fact, vegan due to the richness that comes from the taratoor.”
Joseph Abboud’s tahini chicken
Preparation time: 20 minutes to bring chicken to room temperature; 25 minutes prep; and 20 minutes resting
Cooking time: 1 hour 45 minutes
1 free-range chicken
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp baharat (see below)
400ml taratoor (see below)
50g fried almonds (see below)
1 tbsp fried pine nuts (see below)
50g walnuts, chopped
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, shredded
1 tbsp ground sumac
1 tsp Turkish chilli powder
20g cinnamon, ground
10g allspice, ground
15g nutmeg, ground
5g cloves, ground
15g black peppercorns, ground
80ml lemon juice
2 tbsp verjuice
10g garlic, crushed to a fine paste
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
500ml vegetable oil, for deep-frying
95g flaked almonds
Fried pine nuts
500ml vegetable oil, for deep-frying
95g pine nuts
Remove the chicken from the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to cook it and preheat your oven to 220°C.
For the baharat, mix all the ingredients well. Store excess in an airtight jar or container for up to 6 months. This spice mix can be used to enhance literally anything from barbeque to tabbouleh.
Rub the vegetable oil all over the chicken then season with the salt and baharat. Place in a roasting tin and cook for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the taratoor. Place all the taratoor ingredients in a jar or container, in the order in which they’re listed. Seal with a tight-fitting lid and shake, shake, shake. The sauce may be very thick depending on the tahini, and will also thicken when refrigerated, but it can be easily adjusted with more water. You want it to be the consistency of single cream.
For the fried almonds, heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium–high heat. You’ll know it’s hot enough when a couple of almonds dropped into the oil sizzle gently. Place the rest of the almonds into the hot oil. Stir occasionally and the almonds will start to sizzle. Turn the heat down to low and stir more frequently until the nuts are light brown.
Because the nuts will continue to cook even after you take them out of the oil, quickly drain them in a strainer. They will smell fantastic but don’t be tempted to taste them straight away, as they will be very hot. Spread the nuts on a plate or tray lined with paper towel and allow to cool. Store excess in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 months.
Do the same for the fried pine nuts, also until the nuts are light brown.
To check that your chicken is cooked, pierce the thigh with a knife – the juices should be clear. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 20 minutes before carving. Lower the oven temperature to 180°C.
Take the bird apart by removing the legs and cutting them into thighs and drumsticks. Remove the breasts from the bone and cut each breast into two or three pieces. Pick the rest of the meat off the carcass and add to the pile of chicken pieces.
Drain the fat and excess juices out of the tray and set aside (see note, below). Place the cut chicken in the tray and pour the taratoor over it. Return to the oven for 5 minutes. Serve on your platter of choice topped with the mixed nuts, parsley, sumac and Turkish chilli.
After draining most of the fat away from the juices (and discarding it), you could warm the remaining pan juices and drizzle over the chicken before serving. The leftovers can be shredded and served with crispy bread or used to make an excellent sandwich filling.
Images and text from Rumi by Joseph Abboud, photography by Armelle Habib. Murdoch Books RRP $39.99. This is an edited extract.