Roast Chicken with Za'atar and Orange

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Hello Za'atar, Do you realize you're my current favourite spice?

I first tasted za'atar on my visit to UAE years ago. My aunt loved flatbreads toasted with olive oil and za'atar. She used to get my cousins to run down to the local store to get them for evening snacks and it's caught my fancy ever since. Recently, my aunt gifted me a big big bag of za'atar and now I want to use it ALL the time. Thanks Anne!

This is the only complete dish I've actually tried and tested with za'atar other than using it as a condiment. Which is not surprising considering I don't actually cook that often. For my birthday, last month, I decided to have a 'Roast Chicken with Za'atar and Orange' loosely based on an Ottolenghi recipe I found online. When it comes to Middle Eastern food, who better to trust than Ottolenghi?


The first time I served the roast chicken as is with no accompaniments. There was a gargantuan lasagna as the second round. It was quite a success. This time, to celebrate the summer season, I had the cook make lemon rice. The lemoniness of the rice, the crisp lightly spiced chicken and the cucumber & mint chutney raita (a new discovery I'll share sometime) went down really well to beat the heat of a bleedingly hot summer afternoon.

My local butcher was happy enough to give me boneless chicken thighs this time. Last time, he wasn't at the store when I went and the owner refused to give it to me boneless. It felt nice to cut through crispy skin and actually hit no bone. I prefer thighs cos they're juicier for prolonged cooking. Chicken breasts tend to dry out. Also, I love the crispy skin that comes from the roast.

That's my bro deciding to go freestyle and lose the cutlery. He downed everything with gusto and then looked around and said 'Oh! you'd kept spoons around here. I thought fingers would be better to mangle with a chicken bone'. That's not the only reason, when we're at home, we generally tend to eat like at home, nothing but our fingers touch the food on our plates. I'd like to have had a nice picture of everything all plated up, spoons and all. Some other time perhaps.

This is my adaptation of Ottolenghi's recipe. I didn't have sumac in the kitchen so I used extra za'atar instead. Am sure it would taste even better with half sumac instead of za'atar. Something I'll try out next time.

Za'atar Roast Chicken (Serves 2)


3                        boneless chicken thighs with skin (approx. 300g)
3                        onions thinly sliced
5-6                     garlic cloves crushed
1                        orange, thinly sliced round
4                        baby potatoes, peeled and halved
4 tbsp.               olive oil
3 tbsp.                za'atar
1 tsp                  ground cinnamon
11/2 tsp             all spice crushed
1 tsp                  freshly ground black pepper
11/2 tsp             salt
1/2 cup              water
1 tbsp.               butter (salted)
 pinenuts           handful
parsley to garnish (I missed the garnish this time. It definitely looks better with parsley sprinkled on top)

Method (The easiest part)

1. In a large roasting dish, mix chicken with onions, garlic, oranges, potatoes, olive oil, salt pepper and spices, and water and marinate for 2-3 hours in the fridge. Ideally overnight. But who's thinking that far ahead.

2. Preheat oven to 200C. Place chicken skin side up. Sprinkle a little bit of za'atar on top and bake for 40-50 mins or until the chicken is just cooked through and the skin crackles.

3. Melt butter in a pan and toast pinenuts tossing it around till it gets lightly browned uniformly. Sprinkle over chicken. Garnish with parsley. Serve!

PS: Excuse the slightly out of focus pictures and weird pointing in your face spoon. I'm still getting the hang of this camera. Some days are good. Some days.... never mind!

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