For many years I led a program that brought Catholic School High School teachers to Israel to give them an opportunity to see the country outside of the very narrow focus that was available to them in the news. The hope was that it would give a more balanced and broader perspective to present to their students. I was fortunate enough to have kept up with some of the teachers even after I had retired. My husband and I hosted one of the teachers along with her husband for dinner last week and as food was always a highlight of the trip, I decided to make a Middle Eastern meal. I had homemade hummus, “burnt” eggplant with garlic, lemon and pomegranate seeds, kohlrabi salad, pita and this roasted chicken served with basmati rice. The chicken essentially is a sheet-pan meal, which is prepped the night before and then cooked an hour before serving. It comes from Jerusalem, A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi that was given to me as a gift by my niece. I made a few changes, mostly in proportions, but the biggest change was in the temperature that I used to cook the dish. Ottolenghi suggests cooking everything at 475 degrees F. but I found that was much too high and would have resulted in burnt skin and under-done chicken. I cooked mine at 400 degrees F. The other major change I made was that I did not cook my chicken in the sauce. I poured the marinating liquid into a saucepan and cooked it separately on the stove. It was much less messy than trying to pour off the hot sauce later to reduce and I knew that the chicken would be moist enough from the marinade that it didn’t need to cook in the liquid, which also allowed my skin to become truly crispy, which I like. The recipe can be made with Arak, Ouzo or Pernod, all of which have an anise base. Arak would be used in Israel, but I had Ouzo on hand and used that successfully. This dish definite qualifies as comfort food and can easily be increased for a crowd. Left-overs warmed in a 250 degree F oven were wonderful so don’t worry if this makes more than you need immediately.
Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak
Yield: 6-8 servings
3/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon Arak, Ouzo or Pernod
1/2 cup of EVOO
6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup Dijon or whole grain mustard
6 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges each
6 chicken thighs, bone-in with skin
4 chicken breasts, bone-in with skin
8 small clementines with the peel, cut horizontally into thick slices (usually 3 slices per clementine)
2 Tablespoons thyme leaves
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt and 1.5 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or to taste
- Mix together the first 6 ingredients. Add the salt and Aleppo pepper and whisk to combine. Using 2 sets of doubled freezer bags (no clean-up!) divide the chicken between the bags. (You can use a glass or stainless bowl if you prefer.) Divide the fennel bulbs and clementine slices between the bags. Pour half of the marinating mixture into each bag. Using your hand, carefully mix everything through, trying not to smush the clementines or break up the fennel wedges. Alternatively you can carefully seal the bags and holding it over the sink, gently massage everything in the bag. Place the sealed bags standing up in the fridge. Ideally this is done the night before, but it can be done a few hours before if that is all the time you have.
- When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. and raise the oven rack to the next to top space. I used two pans and two ovens to make this much chicken but you can use one oven rotating the pans as needed.
- I covered two sheet pans with heavy duty foil (again – no clean-up!) I liked that these pans weren’t super deep which allowed everything to get really good color and a crispy skin on the chicken.
- I carefully opened a corner of the freezer bags and poured the marinating liquid into a small saucepan. I then places the chicken pieces, skin side up on the pans and placed the fennel wedges and clementines around the chicken, but not covering the chicken. I roasted everything for about 45 minutes or until the skin was crackling and everything had great color. This is one time when you really want to eat the skin!
- While the chicken was cooking, I brought the marinating liquid to a boil, uncovered. I boiled the liquid down by about half and set it aside until I was ready to serve. when the chicken was ready, I brought the sauce to a simmer and spooned it over the top after plating.